Polis praises verdict in Zapata murder: ‘zero tolerance for hate crimes’

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who was elected to Congress in 2008 as an openly gay man, urged the passage of pending federal hate-crimes legislation in the wake of Wednesday’s conviction on murder and bias-motivated, or hate-crimes charges of the man accused in the brutal death of Angie Zapata, a transgender Greeley woman.

The Boulder Democrat is a co-sponsor of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, sometimes called the Matthew Shepard Act in memory of the gay college student who was beaten and left to die in Wyoming a decade ago. The bill made its way Thursday out of the House Judiciary Committee on a 15-12 vote.

Allen Andrade was sentenced to life without possibility of parole Wednesday after a Weld County jury convicted him in the murder of Angie Zapata. Andrade awaits sentencing on the hate-crime charge and other felonies, including automobile and identity theft, which could add 60 years to his sentence if he is convicted on habitual-criminal charges at a hearing set for May 8.

Here’s Polis’ statement:

“I hope this verdict will set a precedent that our country has zero tolerance for hate crimes. The horrific death of Angie Zapata is exactly why we need strong national hate crimes legislation to protect LGBT Americans. Attacks like this occur every day and perpetuate a climate of fear in the LGBT community. The Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, or Matthew Shepard Act, is expected to be on the House floor next week. As a cosponsor of this bill, I look forward to its being signed into law to help end this violence, especially in the many areas of the country lacking the hate crime protections that we have in Colorado.”

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed out of committee Thursday after Republicans unsuccessfully tried to amend it by stripping protection based on “gender identity,” or transgender status, from the bill, The Washington Blade reports. GOP members also tried to add protection for unborn children, pregnant women and members of the military to the bill, but their amendments were voted down.

The proposed legislation would add gender, sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate-crime law and allow federal authorities to step in when local law enforcement either asks for help or refuses to take the lead investigating and prosecuting bias-motivated crimes of violence. The federal law passed both houses of Congress in 2007 with bipartisan support, but then-President George W. Bush threatened to veto the bill and congressional leaders dropped it.

Earlier this month, Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, and Illinois Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk introduced the bill again. The bill’s supporters are confident it will become law this year because President Barack Obama has said he will sign it.

In 2005, the Colorado Legislature added sexual orientation, including transgender status, to Colorado’s hate-crime law, broadening the statute from the Ethnic Intimidation Act to one covering bias-motivated crimes. The Andrade prosecution was the first time the Colorado law has been applied to the murder of a transgender victim.

Read our continuing coverage of the Zapata murder trial.

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