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Friday, Apr. 24, 2009 at 1:38 AM
Story originated from the Anti-Violence Project Legal Services of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center
GREELEY, Colo. -- A man who beat a transgender teen with a fire extinguisher has been found guilty of first-degree murder and hate crime, in what has become a landmark court case in the state and the country.
Allen Andrade, 32, is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison, which is the mandatory sentence. Sentencing will occur at 4 p.m. He was also found guilty of aggravated motor vehicle theft and identity theft, but he will be sentenced on those charges at a later date.
The jury deliberated for less than two hours before reaching the landmark verdict Wednesday afternoon.
This was the first case in the country where a hate-crime statute has been used in the death 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.
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," Chief Deputy District Attorney Robb Miller told jurors. "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."
Kundelius asked jurors to consider the lowest possible charge, criminally negligent homicide.
When the verdict was read, Andrade put his hand to his chin and wiped his goatee. Zapata's family hugged each other and cried openly.
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 court that Andrade went to traffic court with Zapata and saw that when the clerk called out for "Justin Zapata," Angie Zapata stood up.
Prosecutors said Andrade beat Zapata to death with a fire extinguisher out of his dislike for homosexuals. Prosecutors allege 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," said Prosecutor Robb Miller in his closing arguments Wednesday morning. "This is not a 'who done it.'"
Judge Marcelo Kopcow told the jury Wednesday morning that the burden of proof is 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 is 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. 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.
Defense Attorney Annette 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," 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. "Mr. Andrade reacted to the situation he was in ... Prosecutors would have you believe that a reasonable person would have left. That's what you have to decide."
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.
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.
During the taped conversations with two of his girlfriends, Andrade downplayed the slaying, saying it wasn't like he "killed a straight, law-abiding citizen" and referring to Zapata as "it."
Prosecutor Robb Miller finished his closing statement to the jury around 12:30 p.m. At 2:30 p.m., the eight-man, four women jury notified the judge that they had reached a verdict.
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