Jury selection starts Tuesday in trial of man charged with Zapata slaying

Murder victim Angie Zapata, whose accused killer goes on trial April 14 in Greeley. (Photo/Zapata family)
Murder victim Angie Zapata, whose accused killer goes on trial April 14 in Greeley. (Photo/Zapata family)

The 300 Weld County residents who report for jury duty Tuesday won’t know at first whether they might wind up deciding the fate of a man accused of beating to death Angie Zapata, a 17-year-old transgender woman — first with his fists and then with a fire extinguisher — last summer in Greeley.

Some of the prospective jurors will be sent to another courtroom — randomly, using a constantly changing process to ensure no one knows which crime they could judge, according to a court official — where a second murder trial is scheduled at the Weld County Courthouse. But most will be directed to the benches of District Court Judge Marcelo A. Kopcow, where a dozen will eventually sit for nine days to hear evidence and decide whether Allen Andrade committed first-degree murder and a hate crime.

Seating a jury in the Andrade trial could take days, court officials acknowledged. A rough trial calendar doesn’t anticipate opening statements until sometime Thursday. But contrary to a published report last week, prosecutors aren’t “vexed” by the task, a spokeswoman for the district attorney told the Colorado Independent.

“With any high-profile case, the more publicity a case is getting, the more likelihood people are familiar with the details of the case,” said Jennifer Finch, community relations director for the 19th Judicial District.

“That always makes jury selection difficult,” she said, pointing to a barrage of local and national media coverage when Zapata’s murder came to light and again when police arrested Andrade.

An ad placed last week in newspapers across Colorado won’t influence the jury pool nearly as much as news coverage, which has been heavy and prolonged, Finch said.

“Is it a major concern?” Finch asked. “No,” she said. “We’ll seat a jury.”

If a jury convicts Andrade of the most serious charges, Colorado law requires a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In December, prosecutors filed habitual criminal counts against Andrade, which could quadruple any sentence he might receive. District Attorney Ken Buck said he filed the additional counts – based on Andrade’s three prior felony convictions – so the accused would still serve a lengthy sentence even if a jury convicted on lesser-included offenses, such as second-degree murder.

Andrade, 32, has been held without bond since his arrest in July, nearly two weeks after Zapata’s brutalized body was discovered, hidden under a blanket, on the floor of her Greeley apartment by her sister. After police arrested the Thornton man driving Zapata’s car, Andrade admitted to police he had become enraged when he discovered Zapata was transgender after spending the night at her apartment and having oral sex with her, according to an arrest affidavit.

Andrade said he knocked Zapata to the ground and then grabbed a fire extinguisher and struck her twice in the head, thinking he had “killed it,” police said. Moments later, while he cleaned the apartment to remove evidence, Andrade told police, he heard Zapata “gurgling” and saw her try to sit up, police said. He struck her again in the head and then, convinced she was dead, gathered her keys, purse and cell phone before fleeing in her sister’s car, police said. Andrade also took the fire extinguisher with him.

Jurors likely won’t hear most of the account Andrade told police the night he was arrested — at least not in his own words — because Kopcow threw out portions of Andrade’s confession obtained after he told investigators he wanted to stop talking. Prosecutors have said they’re confident they have ample physical evidence and other incriminating statements from Andrade, including recorded jail-house telephone conversations with his girlfriend when he boasted other inmates were impressed with his reputation wielding a fire extinguisher.

The case has attracted unusually intense press attention, in part because it will be the first time a prosecutor anywhere in the United States has added hate crime charges to the murder of a transgender victim. Colorado is one of 11 states that includes protection for transgender victims in its hate-crime statute.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocates have focused on the case, hoping to educate the public about the dangers faced by transgender people and others with different gender identities. A publicity campaign launched last week includes a Web site devoted to Zapata, transgender issues and a call for Congress to pass the Matthew Shepard Act which would strengthen federal hate-crime laws.

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