Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hate and Murder on Trial

The trial of 31-year-old Allen Ray Andrade begins today in Greeley, Colorado, the place I now call home. Andrade is accused of bludgeoning 18-year-old Angie Zapata to death with a fire extinguisher, hitting her at least five times, in her own home. As horrible as this crime is, you might wonder why this particular case warrants a write-up here on Fourth Wave. Well, this trial is garnering national attention because it will not only involve charging Andrade with first-degree murder, but also violence based on bias against sexual orientation. According to the prosecuting attorney, when Andrade discovered that Angie Zapata was "biologically male," he responded with a hate-filled attack on the transgender woman. According to the defense attorneys, when Andrade discovered that he'd been "tricked" by Justin Zapata (Angie's birth name was Justin), Andrade was shocked and engaged in a passion-filled attack that resulted in "his" murder.

Individual attorneys' perspectives aside, the Andrade case is ground-breaking in that it will be the first case to use hate-crime legislation to prosecute an attack on a transgender victim. Obviously, this verdict will have profound ramifications well beyond our city of approximately 76,000. Colorado is one of only 11 states that currently include transgender and gender identity in its hate-crime statutes.

Many groups working to ensure the safety of the LGBT community have been lobbying for federal protection via more expansive federal hate-crime legislation. Unfortunately, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act--the Matthew Shepard Act--is currently languishing in Congress and many lobbyists see the Andrade case as a chance to increase the profile of this legislation. The extremely violent nature of this crime certainly points to the pressing need to pass such legislation in order to protect some of this nation's most vulnerable people. While past cases have shown how difficult it is to prove that a crime is bias-motivated, such legislation sends a powerful message to both the potential perpetrators and victims.

When this case hit the news in July, I was very impressed by the response of Greeley officials. I heard Greeley's chief of police state that his officers were here to protect all the city's citizens, particularly its most vulnerable. The police were also quick to insist that this particular crime was motivated by bias against Angie's transgender status--in large part because Andrade confessed that he killed "it" when he discovered she was 'really a man.' (Unfortunately, the judge has thrown out that confession because it came more than an hour after Andrade said he was done making statements.) Not all the coverage has been positive, however. I have read readers' comments in local newspapers that decry the murder but place considerable blame on the victim for "tricking" Andrade by not revealing her "real" gender. I have read that the judge has refused to allow any evidence about the murder suspect's substantial involvement in gang violence and other criminal activity, but will allow information about the victim's past sexual activities. It looks like the judge will not permit the inclusion of a taped phone call in which Andrade admitted to his girlfriend that the "gay things need to die" and vocalized numerous other hateful statements about homosexuals. I have read comments that claim Angie was an online "sexual predator" who victimized Andrade, much like the pedophiles who troll the internet looking for child victims. I have seen people present dictionary definitions of the noun "pervert" in order to describe Zapata, decry her decision to live as a woman, and justify Andrade's violent murder.

This case will challenge the public's understanding and sympathies and push the boundaries of state bias-crime legislation. With any luck, it will increase the national dialogue about hate crimes in the LGBT community, and the dangers faced by members of the transgender community in particular. And perhaps it will encourage legislators to take another serious look at the Matthew Shepard Act. The Zapata murder, and the public response to it, certainly suggests the profound need for legislation to protect this particularly vulnerable segment of the population.

If you'd like to learn more about Zapata, as told by her friends and family, please take a look at this youtube video. I'll also do my best to provide updates on the case as they are presented by local news sources.


Mel- Common Sense Mom said...

I think hate crime legislation is ridiculous. Why is it more heinous to kill someone because they are transgendered, black, female,or whatever tag you would like to give yourself, than it is to kill someone because they pissed you off.

Abby said...

Hate crimes do not harm only the victim, but are also intended to terrorize the community to which they belong (in Angie's case other transgender and gender nonconforming people) by making it clear that they are not acceptable and had better stay hidden or they too will be attacked. Because they have a broader impact, they deserve more severe punishment and more vigorous prosecution. In addition, it is not unusual for courts to consider a defendant's motives in committing a crime in determining the appropriate punishment. For example, an assault that is committed for the purpose of financial gain (e.g., to collect a debt) can be punished more severely here in Arizona, than one that is committed simply out of anger.

Aviva DV said...

I have to agree with Angie. Hate crime legislation doesn't punish people more severely because their victim is transgendered, gay, or a racial minority (etc.). Rather, the increased severity of punitive measures towards something deemed a hate crime (rather than just a "normal" homicide/assault) correlate to the fact that usually these crimes are more heinous than crimes committed for reasons that don't have to do directly with the socio-cultural identity of the victim.

If someone is murdered, for example, in the commission of a robbery or even because, let's say, they were an unfaithful spouse, the crime is usually either completely unrelated to the individual (in the case of the robbery) or deeply personal to the specific individual (crime of passion). In the commission of a hate crime, the victim is often attacked merely because they belong to some group of people that the attacker hates or fears. Also, the attack is often way more heinous and vicious than other kinds of assaults. And, hence, like Abby said, hate crimes not only affect the individual(s) involved, but terrorize the community they're from at large.

It's not the same as killing someone because they "pissed you off," because hate crimes aren't usually about the specific individual but about the hated community they represent.

Of course, this is just my perspective. Anyone know more about hate crime legislation from an actual legal perspective?