Opening arguments in transgender murder trial expected today
Jury selection continues this morning in the trial of the man accused of killing Angie Zapata, a transgender teenager who was beaten to death last year in her Greeley apartment. Opening arguments are expected to begin this afternoon. Westword will be blogging throughout the trial. Check back for updates.
Yesterday, a courtroom packed with potential jurors heard three-minute "mini-opening statements" from lawyers on both sides. The statements are meant to convey the facts of the case.
Deputy District Attorney Brandi Nieto began hers by vividly describing the murder scene: "Her face, puffy and cold. Her body, still, as she lay there, fully clothed on the living room floor, lying in a pool of her own dried blood, covered in a blanket."
Nieto told potential jurors how the man accused of killing Zapata, 32-year-old Allen Andrade, met her on a social networking website and how the two spent a few days together. Then, on July 16, she said Andrade "deliberately murdered" Zapata, who he'd known was biologically male "for a while."
But Andrade's lawyers said that wasn't true.
Lawyer Annette Kundelius told potential jurors that "this is a crime about a deception and an immediate reaction to that deception." She said Andrade thought Zapata was a female when he met her online, that she posted "provocative" photos of herself and dressed like a woman.
When he found out Zapata was biologically male, Kundelius said, he "lost control."
"He was out of himself. It was over before it started. He couldn't control it. Those are the words you're going to hear from Mr. Andrade," she said.
But there are a few things the eventual jury won't hear about. Judge Marcelo Kopcow ruled last month that several pieces of evidence are too prejudicial to present at trial. Among those are cell-phone photos that Andrade took of himself masturbating in Zapata's mother's PT Cruiser, which he told the police he stole.
"It can clearly be argued to a jury that if the revelation of the victim's biological sex was so highly provoking to excite an irresistible passion within the defendant causing him to commit murder, how does he then find himself in the same victim's car approximately a week later apparently photographing himself masturbating?" prosecutors wrote in an unsuccessful March 12 motion attempting to overturn Kopcow's ruling.
The jury also won't hear about Andrade's alleged gang ties. According to a Greeley Police Department report, Andrade was involved in a pair of gang-related fights in jail. The report says that Andrade admitted to being a member of the Sureno gang.
It also says Andrade could face "tremendous issues" within the gang because of the charges against him. "Homosexuality and homosexual acts are clearly not tolerated or accepted in any way by the Sureno affiliation," the report says. It concludes that Andrade may have participated in the fights "to curry favor" before he arrived in prison "to lessen the extent of his inevitable punishment."
Judge Kopcow ruled that both pieces of evidence could possibly confuse the jury.
In addition, his order hints at language issues that could surface during the trial -- specifically, whether lawyers will refer to Zapata as a "he" or a "she." In his 24-page order, Kopcow oscillates between male and female pronouns. One example, which refers to an unrelated court appearance by Zapata: "The victim advised (her sister) that she did not want to appear in court by himself."
The lawyers are a bit more clear. During mini opening statements, prosecutor Nieto referred to Zapata as "she" and "her," starting her statement by saying the community had "lost a young woman." Defense attorney Kundelius, however, referred to Zapata as "this person named Angie."
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