You say "trans-panic," I say "hate"

Was the murder of a transgender woman sparked by bias, deception or both?

Published April 18, 2009 11:00AM (EDT)

In what is believed to be a  historic first, a hate-crime statute is being used to prosecute the murder of a transgender person. Last summer in Greeley, Colo., 18-year-old Angie Zapata was allegedly beaten to death with a fire extinguisher after Allen R. Andrade discovered that she was transgender. The two had met online and hung out at Zapata's apartment for two days, during which she gave her  32-year-old companion a blow job. At one point, she left him alone in the apartment and he discovered photographs that raised his suspicions about her sex. When she returned, Andrade allegedly confronted her, grabbed her crotch and, discovering she had a penis, brutally murdered her.

During opening statements on Thursday, Andrade's attorney argued that his client simply "snapped" and "flew into an uncontrollable rage" after finding out that the beauty he had courted online was actually born male. Yes, it's that familiar trans-panic defense, a close relative to the gay-panic defense. In a lawyerly twist of logic, though, the defense team is rejecting the hate-crime charge, which would lengthen Andrade's sentence, and arguing that Zapata's sexual identity did not spark the defendant's murderous rage. Public defender Bradley Martin argued: "It's about a deception and the reaction to that deception." Which is kind of like saying: "It wasn't a reaction to finding out she was transgender, it was a reaction to finding out she was transgender." Well, in that case.

The prosecution, of course, sees things differently. In fact, they argue Andrade plotted to kill Zapata 36 hours after his discovery of the deception. Deputy District Attorney Brandi Nieto says statements he has made will support the fact that the murder was a hate crime. Indeed, the statements already made public paint a vivid picture of a hateful homophobe: He was recorded in a phone conversation saying "gay things need to die" and told police that he was pretty sure he had "killed it" after hitting Zapata in the head until she stopped breathing. Andrade was also recorded telling his girlfriend: "It is not like I went up to a schoolteacher and shot her in the head or killed a straight law-abiding citizen." (A law-abiding citizen! Says the man who admitted to bashing in someone's skull.) 

It's been a while since trans-panic and gay-panic pleas have shown up on my radar, but this case -- as have many cases before -- serves as an enraging reminder that those defenses are so often only euphemisms and apologies for hate.


By Tracy Clark-Flory

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