A man who beat a transgender teen with a fire extinguisher has been found guilty of first-degree murder and bias-motivated crime in what has become a landmark court case in the state and the country.
Allen Andrade, 32, was sentenced to mandatory life in prison for killing 18-year-old Angie Zapata. He was also found guilty of aggravated motor vehicle theft and identity theft, but he will be sentenced on those charges on May 8.
The jury of eight-man and four women deliberated for less than two hours before reaching their verdict Wednesday afternoon.
This was the first case in the country where a hate-crime statute has been used to prosecute the killing of a transgender person. Colorado is one of the few states with a hate-crime law that covers transgender people. Zapata's death has sparked calls for a national hate-crimes law.
Advocates for gay and transgender persons said the guilty verdicts sent a message.
"It's not going to be allowed to happen a whole lot, ever again, that a transgender person is killed and the defense is, 'Oh, I just snapped,'" said Susan Matthews, with the Gender Identity Center in Lakewood.
During the trial, prosecutors painted Andrade as a man who hated homosexuals.
They played taped conversations he had in jail with two of his girlfriends. In those conversations, Andrade downplayed the slaying, saying it wasn't like he "killed a straight, law-abiding citizen" and referring to Zapata as an "it."
"His own statements in the jail call betray the way he values Angie's life, the way he thought of her as less than, less than us because of who she was. And he's counting on society and the jury to do the same in this case," Chief Deputy District Attorney Robb Miller told jurors in his closing statement. "Everyone deserves equal protection under the law and no one deserves to die like this."
Defense attorney Annette Kundelius said Andrade had no time to react or think about his actions when he discovered Zapata was biologically male.
"This is not something that people plan for," Kundelius told jurors. "This isn't a situation where people know how they would act ... Prosecutors would have you believe that a reasonable person would have left. That's what you have to decide."
Kundelius asked jurors to consider the lowest possible charge, criminally negligent homicide.
When the guilty verdicts were read, Andrade showed little emotion. He put his hand to his chin and wiped his goatee. Zapata's family hugged each other and cried openly.
Angie Zapata's family reacts to the guilty verdicts.
"It's been so hard, so very hard for my family and myself ... I lost someone so precious. He took my baby away from me with his selfish, selfish act but the one thing he can't ever take away is the love and the memories that I have of my baby. My beautiful, beautiful baby," Zapata's mother, Maria, said. "Mr. Andrade, he has the opportunity to have his family, to see him, to write to him. He never gave me that opportunity with my baby."
Andrade wiped away tears when his sister testified on his behalf during his sentencing.
"I'm very sorry. This was a very tragic thing that happened but it was not something we signed up for. And my brother is human. I love my brother. We don't support what happened, but we support him. We love him very much," Christina Cruz said.
"Mr. Andrade is not some kind of monster as some people have portrayed. I've gotten to know Mr. Andrade over the course of these eight or so months
He is a good person. And he does have feelings and he does care," Kundelius said.
After handing down the sentence, Judge Marcelo Kopcow handed down his own instructions for Andrade.
"As you're spending the remaining part of your natural life in the Department of Corrections, without the ability to parole, that everyday you think about the violence and the brutality that you caused on this fellow human being and the pain that you have caused not only your family but the family of Angie Zapata," Kopcow said.
Zapata was born a man but changed her name to Angie and began living as a female when she was 16. Gonzo Zapata said if his sister was anything, she was honest. He said as her big brother, he should have protected her, and he's sad he wasn't there when she was attacked.
Slaying Result Of Passion?
Andrade has not denied beating Zapata, but his lawyers argue he snapped after discovering she was biologically a man and that the killing was not planned, but an act of passion stirred from deception.
Prosecutors argued Andrade knew for 36 hours that Zapata was biologically male. They argued in that Andrade went to a court hearing with Zapata and saw that when the clerk called out for "Justin Zapata," Angie Zapata stood up.
Prosecutors even hinted that Andrade may have been confused by his own sexuality, or was experimenting -- even visiting a bisexual chat room in the social networking site MocoSpace. Andrade and Zapata met through MocoSpace.
"Angie Zapata died because of who she was ... She born in a boy's body but living as a female. Ultimately, she was murdered because of it," Miller said. "This is not a 'who done it.'"
Kopcow told the jury Wednesday morning that the burden of proof was on the prosecution. He said if prosecutors have failed to prove all the elements of premeditated murder, jurors could find the defendant guilty of a lesser crime such as murder in the second degree, manslaughter or negligent homicide.
Jurors must decide if the defendant was acting in a sudden heat of passion or if the killing was planned, Kopcow said.
Miller argued that the slaying was not a lesser offense or a result of reckless manslaughter. He said reckless is a car accident.
"This is much more than reckless. His intent is seen at the crime scene. His intent is heard in the jail calls ... Hitting someone time after time in the forehead with a fire extinguisher shows exactly what the intent was ... it was nothing less than first-degree murder," Miller said.
Miller said this was not "heat of passion" because a reasonable person in that situation would have left the apartment. If Andrade was so repulsed by Zapata, why would he stay at her house for 12 hours, or take her car -- it would have been a constant reminder, Miller said.
What is clear, Miller said, is that the defendant had more than enough time to do what a reasonable person would have done -- walk away.
Kundelius argued that Zapata deceived Andrade.
"He was not a girl. He was not a boy. He was a man," Kundelius said.
Kundelius said prosecutors talked about the multiple blows being evidence that the crime was planned.
"I'm arguing the opposite. The injuries were only to one part of the face. There were no other injuries. There were no injuries to the back, no injuries to the rest of the body. Just to the front of the face. That's evidence that this happened very quickly. Mr Andrade just reacted to what happened," Kundelius said.
"First-degree murder hasn't been proven in this case, there is no evidence of it. He didn't have time to think about this, he just reacted," she said.
Two detectives, a former roommate, a female friend and an acquaintance testified on Tuesday that it was difficult to tell Zapata was a man based on her appearance, the way she carried herself and women's clothes in her apartment.
But one witness appeared to counter the defense's claim that Andrade was deceived.
"She definitely sounded like a male trying to sound like a female," said David Hedstrom, who knew Zapata through her sister, Monica Murguia, who also goes by Monica Zapata.
"That adds up that this defendant knew well that the victim was male," Miller said.
During four days of testimony, prosecution witnesses testified that Andrade's DNA was found on cigarette butts, a sex toy in Zapata's apartment, and a purse belonging to Zapata that Andrade later gave to one of his girlfriends. That evidence, along with tape-recorded jail phone calls in which Andrade expressed disdain for homosexuals and alluded to Zapata's slaying, proved crucial because the judge threw out comments Andrade made to investigators after requesting an attorney.
Investigators said those comments included Andrade saying he struck Zapata twice with a fire extinguisher when he confronted her about her gender. Investigators also said Andrade told them Zapata had performed oral sex on him the night before.
Closing statements to the jury were completed around 12:30 p.m. At 2:30 p.m., the jury notified the judge that they had reached a verdict.
Gay rights activists hope publicity from the case leads to adding sexual orientation and gender identity to a federal hate crime law. That would allow the FBI and other federal agencies to investigate crimes against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.
"I think that this case could have an enormous impact," said Mindy Barton, legal director for the GLBT Community Center of Colorado. "We're one of only 11 states that ahve protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, so we're looking at a whole host of other states that don'e even have basic protections in place... this is a new opportunity to education people about the importance of state laws and federal legislation."
Prosecutors also want Andrade to be sentenced as a habitual offender because he has five felony convictions, which could add decades to his sentence.
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