Seven unanswered questions about the trial of Angie Zapata's killer
On April 22, Allen Andrade, an unemployed 32-year-old who had spent time in prison for a string of non-violent crimes, was convicted of first-degree murder for beating to death eighteen-year-old Angie Zapata of Greeley. A striking beauty, Angie was born a boy named Justin David Zapata but had been living as a woman for several years. She and Andrade had met sometime before the murder on the social networking website MocoSpace and spent three days together before he killed her.
Colorado is one of eleven states with hate-crime laws that protect transgender people, and gay-rights advocates believe that Andrade is the first person in the country to be convicted of a hate crime for murdering a transgender person.
By deciding that hatred had motivated Andrade to kill, the jury rejected his lawyers' argument that he had "snapped" after figuring out that Angie was biologically male — a violent response to a shocking lie, not murder.
While the most important questions were answered in the courtroom, many smaller ones — little mysteries that may never be solved — were left open. Some are broader in scope, while others focus on unexplained details. Here, we look at seven of them.
Q: Was Angie working as a prostitute?
A: Defense attorneys say she was. Her friends and family say no way.
Before trial, defense attorneys asked if they could question Angie's former roommate, J.J. Alejandro, about whether she "performed sexual favors for money with Hispanic males from 'Spanish' bars." They said Alejandro — a platonic friend who lived with Angie for three months last year — knew about specific instances of sex for pay and knew that the Hispanic males "believed the alleged victim was a biological female."
In a March ruling, Judge Marcelo Kopcow said the question of whether Angie was a prostitute was irrelevant to the case.
Alejandro didn't respond to a request to be interviewed for this story, but Angie's friends say there's no way she was working as a prostitute. As proof, they point to her swagger and say she respected herself too much.
She also didn't need the money, some say. "She worked at Good Times as a manager, and then her sister was paying her rent and giving her money. And then she had a roommate. So why would she need to make more money?" asks Kitty DeLeon, a transgender woman who acted as Angie's male-to-female mentor. "I told her that there's trannies that do that, and I don't want you to do that. You go live a regular life."
But friends and family admit that in the months before she died, they didn't know much about Angie's life. She'd moved to Greeley and was living in her own apartment, away from most of her family for the first time. She had new friends and new hangouts.
"When she went to Greeley, I cried," says childhood friend Rochelle Camacho. "I called her and I cried and said, 'We don't even talk anymore'.... We became a little distant, and that's what hurts me the most. I wish we weren't distant when she passed."
Friends and family say Angie wanted to save for school — and eventually maybe a sex change — but had a hard time hanging on to cash. "She tried saving money, but somehow she couldn't save it," says another childhood friend, Felecia Luna. She'd see a cute outfit or purse, and the money was as good as gone.
Mercedes Ponderelli, a friend of Angie's from Greeley, says money is why Angie took on a roommate. There may have been a joke going around that Angie was going to prostitute for money, but that's all it was — a joke. To her knowledge, Angie never did that. "Angie wanted to find someone to love her," Ponderelli says.
Is Allen Andrade in a gang?
Prosecutors and police say he is. He hasn't admitted it.
According to a police report, Andrade has been a known member of the Hispanic Sureño 13 gang since 2000. And he was charged twice with rioting in a detention facility for his involvement in two gang-related fights at the Weld County Jail in Greeley, where he was locked up while awaiting trial. (Those charges have since been dropped, as Andrade has already been sentenced to life without parole plus sixty years in prison, says Weld County Chief Deputy District Attorney Robb Miller, who prosecuted the murder case against Andrade.)
The first fight happened in September, two months after Andrade was arrested for Angie's murder. According to a police report, a fight broke out between two inmates, both of whom are Sureño gang members. Corrections officers responded by deploying "chemical agents." They also ordered all of the nearby inmates to return to their cells.
But Andrade and several others didn't obey. The report says Andrade "joined in the fight," assisting gang member Johnny "Whisper" Hernandez, who was in jail on charges that he murdered his infant daughter.
In January, Andrade disobeyed again. When another gang-related fight broke out, he refused to return to his cell and continued to stand nearby. "Although his involvement in the second riot appears nominal," wrote Officer Michael Prill of the Greeley Police Department's gang unit, "his tacit involvement was supportive of the Sureños" and was an "additional diversion to jail staff dealing with a dangerous situation."
Prill hypothesized that Andrade's involvement may have been an attempt to curry favor with ranking members of the Sureños, a powerful faction of a gang that originated in California prisons in the 1950s. The gang has a few cardinal rules, including this one: No homosexuals. The punishment for homosexuality is severe; it can mean death.
"In my experience and expertise on gangs, the allegations leveled against Andrade will bear tremendous issues within the world of Sureños," Prill wrote. "I clearly cannot offer an opinion as to Andrade's thought process in this murder. However, if the allegations that he had sex with a male are true, there is no doubt this homosexual violation, once it had occurred, was considered by Andrade in retrospect." News that he helped in a prison fight "may prolong the eventual discovery of his violation," Prill wrote, "or possibly (though unlikely) lessen the extent of his inevitable punishment."
Judge Kopcow did not allow Prill to testify at trial, despite prosecutors' wishes. Requests to speak to him for this story were not answered by the Greeley police.
For his part, Andrade hasn't claimed to be a Sureño. Court papers say he "does not concede that he is affiliated" with the gang. His lawyer would not comment, and Andrade didn't respond to a letter requesting an interview.
Did Andrade know that Angie was biologically male long before he killed her?
Prosecutors and the jury say he did. Andrade's lawyers say he didn't.
The prosecution argued that Andrade was a homophobic killer who knew for some time — hours, maybe even days — that Angie was transgender. But Andrade's attorneys say that doesn't make sense. If he was homophobic, why would he spend three days with a transgender person? Why would he sleep in her apartment? Buy beer with her? Why would he text and call her nearly 700 times if he was disgusted by who she was?
They claim that Andrade thought Angie was a woman and that he "snapped" on July 16 after figuring out she wasn't. Andrade told police he became suspicious of Angie's true gender after seeing photos in her apartment and confronted her about it that night. When she answered, "I am all woman," he grabbed her crotch and felt a penis. "Allen flew into an uncontrollable rage," defense attorney Bradley Martin said at trial. "Allen had no idea until right before he started hitting Justin that this person he thought was a she was actually a he."
Angie's friends and family believe she had to have told Andrade the truth. Though none of them were privy to conversations between Andrade and Angie — and Angie's cell phone, which would have stored all of their texts, was never found — they say that she was always open about who she was.
Friend Felecia Luna says Angie would often talk to guys over the phone before meeting them — and she'd be sure to tell them she was transgender. "Sometimes she'd make them guess, and most of them would guess it," Luna says. "A lot of guys were okay with it. She'd be like, 'I told this guy I'm a guy,' and they'd be like, 'It's okay. You're beautiful'.... And she'd meet them and start a relationship if they wanted to."
Her brother, Gonzalo Zapata, recalls that his sister was honest with a co-worker of his when she came to visit him. She teased the co-worker about asking her brother, who is gay, on a date and then added, jokingly, "I'm his brother, and if you do anything to hurt him, I'll kick your ass."
Angie's mentor, Kitty DeLeon, can think of another reason why Andrade almost certainly knew Angie was biologically male long before he killed her. "She was a teenager, you know?" DeLeon says. "She has hormones racing like crazy, so don't tell me he didn't notice for two days that she probably got a hard-on somewhere."
Prosecutors Miller and Deputy District Attorney Brandi Nieto relied on more concrete evidence at trial. For example, Andrade went to court with Angie the day before her murder, where he heard a court clerk call her traffic-ticket case as "City of Greeley versus Justin Zapata," which was still her legal name.
"All evidence indicates Angie was up front with who she was," Miller said at trial.
Did Andrade and Angie have sexual contact?
Andrade's lawyers say yes. Prosecutors say it's doubtful.
Andrade's lawyers say circumstantial evidence — and common sense — suggests that the two had sexual contact: There's only one reason people spend the night together, public defender Annette Kundelius said at trial. But the physical evidence doesn't prove it. Instead, it leads to the conclusion that they had sex only with themselves.
A pink vibrator found in Angie's apartment was covered with oodles of Andrade's DNA — and only Andrade's DNA. In fact, there was so much DNA that an expert testified that it had to have come from a DNA-rich source, such as blood, semen or vaginal secretions. But none of those substances was found on the vibrator, the expert said. When pressed, she said the abundant DNA could have come from inside the anus.
And while Andrade's DNA was all over the vibrator, it was nowhere on Angie — not in her mouth, under her fingernails or anywhere on her body. There was semen in her underwear, the expert said, but it was her own. Angie still had a functioning penis.
Although Andrade told police that Angie performed oral sex on him on July 15, that confession was thrown out by the judge, and the jury never heard it. Prosecutors brushed aside assertions that the two had sex, emphasizing that it's impossible to know for sure. Instead, they characterized Andrade's stay at Angie's apartment as a sleepover; the way the beds were set up makes it seem like he was a friend crashing on her floor.
Is Andrade bisexual?
Prosecutors hint that he was. His lawyers vehemently deny it.
This much is clear: Andrade was involved in complicated, romantic relationships with more than one woman. One of them, Felicia Mendoza, taught him how to use MocoSpace, a social networking website accessed mainly via cell phones. Mendoza says she saw Andrade trolling a bisexual chat room one time when he was on MocoSpace.
In fact, Andrade met Angie on MocoSpace, though it's unclear when or in what part of the website. Angie's profile said she was female. A representative from MocoSpace says there is no "transgender" option.
Andrade's lawyers discounted suggestions that he's bisexual or gay, saying he could have been looking for bisexual women on MocoSpace, since they're also attracted to men. At trial, they asked Mendoza if she thought Andrade was bisexual. No, she said. Would you describe him as a straight male, they asked? Yes, she answered.
When the police first arrested Andrade for Angie's murder, he told them he thought he'd killed "it," according to an arrest affidavit. In jailhouse phone conversations with his ex-girlfriends, Andrade made comments such as "Gay things need to die," and he called one of his ex-girlfriend's friends a "gay fool."
He also said this: "It's not like I just went up to a schoolteacher and shot her in the head, you know what I mean? Not like I killed a law-abiding, straight citizen."
Kundelius says she was "kind of baffled" by the prosecution's suggestion that Andrade was bisexual. "I don't know what that was about," she says. She says there was "no evidence or indication" that Andrade was anything but straight.
But some observers say his comments — and his actions — show he had something to hide. Transgender blogger Autumn Sandeen, a former Navy officer who transitioned from male to female in 2003 and now writes for the GLBT blog Pam's House Blend, was particularly vocal. "It looks to me that a publicly homophobic, closeted gay or bisexual man killed a woman he saw as trans and gay because he didn't want to be identified as gay himself," Sandeen wrote the day after the vibrator was introduced into evidence. "In my mind, this reads as a crime of angry regret instead of a crime of passion."
What role did gender-specific language play at the trial?
Both sides tried to use it to their advantage.
When Maria Zapata first met with the lawyers who would be prosecuting her daughter's murder case, she had one question: Are you accepting of gays, lesbians and transgender people? Once they answered yes, she followed up with this: How will you refer to my baby?
Throughout the trial, prosecutors called her "Angie," the name she chose for herself when she started living as a woman. They referred to her as "she," talked about "her" cell phone, and said the community had "lost a young woman."
The defense did just the opposite, referring to her as "Justin," her given name. They asked questions about "his" appearance and "his" breasts and whether "he" lied about "his" gender. They made references to "Allen and Justin."
The effect was sometimes confusing for witnesses such as police officers and medical experts, who tended to oscillate between female and male pronouns depending on who was asking the questions. But Angie's family and friends didn't waver. When defense attorneys questioned them about Justin, they answered by referring to Angie.
Kundelius says part of the defense's strategy was to constantly remind jurors that Angie was biologically male. "Our defense was that Allen was deceived," she says. "And Angie was a male." She and her fellow attorneys debated how to refer to Angie during the trial, and "in the end, we decided that was the best way to represent Allen."
Mindy Barton, legal director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Colorado and a close observer of the trial, says the tactic didn't work. "It seems clear that the jury was not swayed by that," Barton says. "It was clear upon opening arguments to the jury that we're talking about Angie, we're talking about her, we're talking about a person that deserves respect and has been brutally killed. And out of respect for her, they should treat Angie as the woman that she was."
Why did Andrade drive Angie's car around and otherwise act so strangely after the murder?
His lawyers say it's because he wanted to get caught. Prosecutors disagree.
Andrade's lawyers never said he didn't do it. From the beginning, they argued that he had killed Angie without thinking, that he'd made a grave and terrible mistake. And they pointed to his actions after the murder as proof that he was sorry.
"He didn't do anything to try to run from this," defense attorney Kundelius said at the trial. Instead, he stuck around. One ex-girlfriend described him as edgy and scared. She said that in the days after the murder, he told her he was going to kill himself. In her closing argument, Kundelius offered this exchange between Andrade and Mendoza, as recorded in a jailhouse call days after Andrade's arrest:
Mendoza: What were you fucking thinking, Allen, driving that fucking car?
Andrade: I wanted to face it.
But Andrade didn't tell anyone what he'd done. Instead, he lied to cover his tracks. For instance, he told his ex-girlfriends he'd bought the PT Cruiser he'd stolen from in front of Angie's apartment, even though he was unemployed. He blatantly used the credit card he found inside and took cell-phone photos and videos of himself masturbating and groping one of his ex-girlfriend's breasts. He also stole Angie's purses and gave them to Mendoza as gifts.
Prosecutors say that behavior smacks of a man with no remorse. If Andrade was so repulsed by the situation and by what he'd done, why did he continue to surround himself with the evidence? Why did he keep constant reminders of Angie and his crime?
The answer they gave is harsh: Because Andrade didn't value Angie's life. Once he found out she was transgender, he thought of her as "less than us," as someone the world wouldn't miss much. And that's the opposite of remorse, they said.