Angie Zapata’s Murderer is About to Cook His Own Goose, and It Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Guy

On July 17, 2008, Angie Zapata, a happy and beautiful transgender woman who was only 18 and living on her own for the first time, was brutally murdered in Greeley, Colorado by Allen Andrade because she was trans. Her murderer, of course, claims that he beat her head in with a fire extinguisher until she was unconscious, and then went back and did it again to make sure she was dead when he noticed her trying to sit up, in a fit of “uncontrollable” rage when he discovered that she had a penis. (Oh, the horrors!!) Of course, there is good reason to believe that Andrade already knew that Angie was trans, but his defense attorney has no choice but to go with the best chance she’s got for defending him, which is to blame Angie for her own murder.

The Weld County District Attorney charged Andrade with first degree (premeditated) murder, a hate crime for murdering Angie because she was trans (the first such prosecution in the nation), auto theft for stealing her car and identity theft for stealing and using her credit card. Andrade’s trial began on Tuesday, April 14. Yesterday, the prospective jurors got to hear for the first time what the case is about when the attorneys presented their “mini-opening” statements. (Mini-opening statements are apparently relatively new in Colorado. They’ve been in use here in Arizona for several years and are intended to give the jurors a basic idea of what the case is about, so that they can be questioned about whether the nature of the crime will make it difficult for them to be fair and impartial.)

The prosecutor told the jurors that Andrade had known that Angie was trans for some time and that he murdered her in a premeditated attack. Andrade’s defense attorney, however, said that he felt “deceived” when he found out that Angie was trans,

and he reacted. He reacted, he lost control, he was outside of himself.

“Everything happened so fast, it was over before it started. He couldn’t control it. Those are the words you’re going to hear from Mr. Andrade. He never knew he had that kind of rage.”

(“In Transgender Murder Trial, Key Question Looms: When Did Suspect Know?“, Greeley Tribune, April 16, 2009.) In my opinion, if Andrade pursues that defense through trial, he’s cooking his own goose, which is fine with me.

I am a criminal defense attorney. More specifically, I do criminal appeals, which means I represent people like Andrade after they have been convicted, either by a jury or by pleading guilty. My job is to look over the shoulders of the police, the judges, the prosecutors, and the defense attorneys to make sure that everyone follows the rules, imperfect as they are, that have been adopted in this country to help ensure a fair trial. I’ve been doing this work since 1997. In that time, I have read the transcripts of hundreds of jury trials, including several murder trials, so I have a pretty good idea of why attorneys, especially defense attorneys, do what they do and what juries look for when they decide to convict or acquit someone.

On her blog this morning, Kelli Anne Busey quoted from another article about the mini-opening statements in Andrade’s trial, noting that the prosecutor told the jurors that, contrary to Andrade’s claim, there would be no evidence that he had sexual contact with Angie before the murder. Kelli commented, if the prosecutor can make that claim stick, the defense is going to have a very difficult time. Why? Because without proof that Andrade had sex (of whatever kind) with Angie without knowing she was trans, his “trans panic” defense falls apart, and his crime is revealed as the bald-faced hate crime that it really is. In other words, Andrade didn’t kill Angie because he was deceived into having sex with a “man,” but simply because he hates trans people and believes, as he told his sister in a recorded phone call from the jail, that “gay things need to die.”

What’s even more significant for me, however, is the statement by Andrade’s attorney that he is going to testify: “Everything happened so fast, it was over before it started. He couldn’t control it. Those are the words you’re going to hear from Mr. Andrade.” Of course, that’s the only way Andrade can hope to prove his alleged “trans panic” defense (who else can prove what was going through his head as he bludgeoned Angie to death?) and thus convince the jury to reduce his conviction to 2nd degree murder or manslaughter, but it’s a very risky move. Andrade’s decision to testify (very few defendants do) means that the prosecutor gets to cross-examine him in excruciating detail about when he first knew or suspected that Angie was trans, which could well cook his goose right there. In addition, the prosecutor will get to hammer home the evidence that, after first beating her unconscious, Andrade went back and made sure Angie was dead after she tried to sit up. That makes it first degree (premeditated) murder without question, regardless of how outraged he may have been when he first hit her.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is what happens if Andrade contradicts any of the things he told the police, including the things he said during the parts of his confession that the judge threw out. For example, what if Andrade tells the jury that Angie was dead after he beat her the first time but told the police he went back a second time to finish the job because he saw her moving? If that happens, the judge will allow the prosecutor to bring back in everything that he previously threw out, including any audio or video tape of his police interview, to prove that Andrade is lying to save his ass. Let me tell you, when a jury hears a defendant say one thing to them face-to-face from the witness stand, and then gets to hear (and, if the interview was videotaped, see) him say the opposite to the police right after he was arrested and before he had a chance to plan out his story, it is absolutely devastating and virtually guarantees a conviction. From where I sit, it looks like, unless something changes very drastically over the course of his trial, Andrade is about to cook his own goose. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!

(Cross-posted from my personal blog.)

When Does “Sex” Matter to Trans People?

Attorney and law professor Jillian Weiss has posted another interesting article over on Bilerico. This one concerns the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which held that laws making sex between consenting adults of the same sex a crime (aka “sodomy” laws) are unconstitutional, and whether and how that decision can be used to, in her words, “loosen the chokehold that the law has on transgender people.” One of the commenters there asked if she could write another article on the definition of “sex” in Title VII and EEO policies banning “sex” discrimination, as applied to trans people. Rather than wait for Dr. Weiss’ response, I decided to weigh in on this topic. Here is my response:

E.T., I’ll take a stab at responding to your second question regarding the definition of “sex.”

It’s important to distinguish 2 different situations in which the legal definition of the word “sex” impacts trans people: first, laws that ban discrimination on the basis of sex in employment, housing, public accommodations, etc.; and second, the right of trans people to access legal privileges, e.g., marriage (in most states), that are restricted on the basis of a person’s sex. The second group could also encompass the right of trans people to use services or facilities, e.g., public restrooms, access to which is restricted on the basis of a person’s sex. (I say “could encompass” since, in most places, contrary to public opinion, there are no laws that say a man can’t use a women’s restroom, or vice versa. In other words, sex segregation of restrooms is largely a matter of social convention, not law, although trespassing and disturbing the peace laws are sometimes used (unjustly, in my opinion) to enforce those conventions.)

Where access to a legal privilege, service or facility is restricted based on sex, determining a trans person’s right of access requires a determination of what “sex” the person is, since sex-based segregation is based on a strict binary division between male or female, where no ambiguity is allowed. Answering that question, in turn, raises myriad complicated questions regarding how a person’s sex is determined. For example, is it strictly biological or chromosomal, or does it include a person’s gender identity or expression? If biological, do we look only at the configuration of the person’s genitals or genes at birth, or do we, also or instead, give effect to the person’s genital configuration after surgery? Can a person’s sex be legally changed? And what do we do about intersex people whose chromosomes, genitalia, internal organs, etc. are not clearly male or female?

Most, but not all, of the cases addressing this question in the context of the right of a trans person to marry have ignored the effects of surgery and attempts to “legally” change the person’s sex by amending her/his birth certificate. In other words, they were decided based on the basic premise espoused by many of our opponents that “once a man, always a man,” and vice versa.

Fortunately, most, but not all, of the recent cases involving the definition of “sex” for purposes of determining a trans person’s right to protection under laws banning sex discrimination have avoided this difficulty. They do so by saying that it doesn’t matter what sex a person is, i.e., whether the person is male, female, both or neither. Instead, what matters is whether the person was treated differently because of some sex-related characteristic. This trend started with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins in 1988. In that case, the court said that discrimination based on sex under Title VII, the federal law banning sex, race and other types of discrimination in employment, includes being treated differently because the person doesn’t conform to sex-based stereotypes regarding dress, mannerisms, etc. Thus, the Supreme Court held that it was illegal for Price Waterhouse to refuse to make Ann Hopkins a partner basically because she was too “butch.” (The court, of course, didn’t use that term and there is no indication that I know of that Ms. Hopkins was lesbian.)

This trend, IMO, reached its logical endpoint with last fall’s federal trial court decision in Diane Schroer’s Title VII sex discrimination suit against the Library of Congress. Schroer v. Billington. In that case, the court found that the Library violated Title VII by discriminating against Schroer because she was changing her sex, not because she was male, female, both or neither.

Thus, in the context of discrimination laws or policies that you were talking about, it isn’t necessary to define a person’s sex as male or female, etc. It is only necessary to tackle that question when the trans person is seeking access to a legal privilege like marriage, or a service or facility, like a restroom, where access is restricted based on whether the person is male or female. The lack of a coherent and consistent definition of a person’s sex and/or methods for legally changing one’s sex that are actually recognized by the courts are the source of most, if not, all, of the ongoing confusion regarding the rights of trans people.

In the case of marriage, I think the best solution to that confusion is to remove all sex or gender based restrictions, in other words, to legalize same sex marriage. That’s why the battle for marriage equality is important to the trans community, contrary to the opinions of some. With respect to access to restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities, I think the best solution is to provide for personal privacy, e.g., the stalls in women’s restrooms, and allow access based on the person’s gender expression. In other words, if you’re presenting as a woman, you use a women’s restroom, and vice versa, regardless of your physical sex. Any other solution quickly becomes too complex and confusing to administer and enforce. Implementing that solution will, however, require the American public to just “get over” their hang-ups about the sex or gender of the person in the stall next to them.

Cross-posted from my personal blog.

I’m clearly upset!

Hi Everyone,
This one may be short, we’ll see what happens. The other day I was reading someone’s blog (I’m really sorry I forgot where I originally saw this. If anyone knows, please give credit where credit is due.) and was guided to the following link: Intersex Infant surgical abuse. PLEASE watch the video.

It is a sad and aggravating story about a woman that adopted a baby that turned out to be intersex. Not that big of a deal on the surface right. Well not quite so fast. The doctor wanted to do invasive surgery to “FIX” the child and the mother told the doctor not to do any surgery at all. Later, after the mother had taken the baby home, the doctor called her and told her that the baby’s single testicle may become cancerous and they should do a biopsy to make sure. The doctor CLEARLY went against the mother’s wishes and removed the testicle trying to turn the child into a girl. UGGGGGGGG. PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO. I feel that it is very important that everyone watches the video and if you can please pass it on to others.
Why is it so important? Have you heard of Alice Dreger? To quote TSRoadmap, “Dreger is the J. Michael Bailey of the intersex community: someone whose trade is writing and speaking about controversies surrounding marginalized populations.” Read this and maybe you’ll understand. Anyways, its people like this that give make this world so difficult for the intersex and transgender communities. Ugggg. I also believe its attitudes like this “I know better than you” that give doctors like the one in the story above the attidude that they can do anything they want. What do you think?
I said I would keep it short, so I’ll say good night for now. Thanks for listening.
Michelle

Review: Law and Order SVU: Transgender Teen

Over on her “A T Revival” blog, Lori posted a review of last night’s episode of Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit. As I was in a very drowsy state as I tried to stay awake to watch it, I’m grateful that she wrote down her summary and opinions, filling in the parts I missed.

The following is a review of one woman’s take on tonight’s episode of Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit. NBC titled this particular episode “Stabler’s Comfort”. The episode tackled the issue of a 13 year old transgender girl named Hailey. You can watch a clip of the episode HERE. I typed these notes as I watched, so don’t hate on me if I screw up some of the details. I give my final take at the end, so stay tuned through to the conclusion at the end for my opinionated summary.

The opening scene is of a male victim whose genital area has been bleeding profusely, an obvious assault outside a local strip club and a case specifically for the Special Victims Unit.

At the station, an acrylic fingernail was found eventually leading forensics to prove that “the perp is definitely female.”

Olivia and Elliot, SVU’s main detectives, head over to the strip club to try and find the identity of the then unconscious victim and eventually meet up wtih Frankie the Bouncer, a butch lesbian who clues them in on the club.

Soon, through questioning of some of the strip club’s girls including “Misty,” the identity of the man is revealed to be Mark Van Curen, a Repo man who drives a tow truck.

Olivia and Elliot find their way to Mark’s soon to be ex wife Ellen who admitted she “would kill him” before he let him take his son away from her.

At this point, Henry, Ellen’s 13 year old “son,” is introduced to Olivia and Elliot as Hailey.

“My son is transgender,” Ellen says to a confused Olivia and Elliot. “When he was four he pranced around in a tutu and screamed ‘God made a mistake!'”

Read the rest of the summary, and Lori’s take on the episode here.

The Most Important Transition Question

I haven’t posted anything here in a while, normally I just use my own blog for stuff.  I thought this video was worth posting here because it concerns the entire trans community.  I’ve been wanting to make this video for a while and I finally got around to doing it, so here it is.

I Have a Dream!

I originally posted this one year ago today on my old Yahoo 360 blog, while the wound from transgender people being excluded from ENDA by HRC and Barney Frank was very raw (it still is).

Today is the day in the United States that we celebrate the dream of equality and freedom that the Rev. Martin Luther, Jr. inspired in this country and, I hope, in the world. There is not much that any of us can add to his inspiring words, so I simply invite all of you to take 17 1/2 minutes of your day to listen to his words and to share his dream. (The video and the direct link to YouTube are below.) As you do so, you might want to note as I did, the following words, which seem so appropriate today as we struggle for recognition of equal rights for all transgender people against the argument that we need to wait our turn, that incrementalism is the path to freedom and justice for us:

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.” (Beginning @ 5:15 on the video below)

I followed up the next day with another post on Martin Luther King’s opposition to incrementalism and how he convinced LBJ that that was not the right approach:

As I noted yesterday, in his “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. opposed applying “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism” to the civil rights struggle of that time.

More information about Dr. King’s opposition to that strategy came out last night on Bill Moyers’ Journal on PBS. During that program, Moyers recounted a previously unrevealed conversation between Dr. King and Lyndon Johnson that Moyers was privy to as a young presidential aide. (You can watch or read the transcript of this program here: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/01182008/watch4.html.) Initially, LBJ tried to convince Dr. King to quell the demonstrations and other unrest that he and others were encouraging, in order to help Johnson convince the white supremacists in Congress to approve the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In keeping with his words at the Lincoln Memorial, King refused, saying that “his people had already waited too long. He talked about the murders and lynchings, the churches set on fire, children brutalized, the law defied, men and women humiliated, their lives exhausted, their hearts broken.” After listening to King, Johnson changed his mind and told King to “keep doing what you’re doing, and make it possible for me to do the right thing.” King did as asked, LBJ used his legendary arm-twisting skills in the Senate and one of the most important pieces of legislation of the last century, and one that today provides the only glimmer of hope for protection against employment discrimination for most trans women and men in the U.S., was passed.

So, Lyndon Johnson insisted on doing what was right at the time, rather than what he thought was practical or pragmatic given the resistance he faced. As civil rights pioneer and U.S. House of Representatives member John Lewis said on the floor of the House during the ENDA debate last November [2007], “It is always the right time to do the right thing.” Johnson, King and many others knew this in 1963 and 1964. Why is it that today so many people believe that this principal doesn’t apply to our own struggle for equal rights?

Today is still the time to do the right thing! Perhaps, with Barack Obama’s inauguration tomorrow as our next President, we will finally begin to achieve the civil rights, the human rights, that we all deserve.

(Once again, cross-posted from my personal blog.)

Some Thoughts on Activism

My friend Michael is one of the organizers of, and the webmaster for, the Central Arizona Gender Alliance. Recently, he asked me to write a profile of myself to be posted as the feature story on the CAGA website for January 2009. Rather than start from scratch, I adapted my “Who I Am and Why I Do What I Do” post. Since I wrote that post, however, my involvement in the issues affecting our community has increased. That led to the following comments that I added to the story that will appear on the CAGA site, which I wanted to share here.

While I have this chance, I also want to say some things about activism. The trans community in this country is small, and the number of those willing to speak out on the issues that affect us is even smaller. That means that each one of us is vital if we ever want the public’s attitude toward us, and the discrimination, hate and bigotry that we face, to change. It also means that one person can have a significant impact on the direction that our community takes in addressing the issues that we face.

It sounds clichéd, but I have learned through experience the truth of the statement that if I don’t do it, if I don’t step forward and say “this is wrong and must change,” if I don’t propose solutions and work to make them a reality, then who will? The answer is no one. It happens every day. We see or hear about something that we know is wrong – another trans woman shot in Memphis, another trans woman homeless because she can’t get a job – and we stand by in silence and do nothing. Those things will never change if you don’t work to change them, even if all you can do is to say “this is wrong.” Keep in mind too that, although it is important that we in the trans community know about these injustices, it is our families and friends, our lesbian, gay and bisexual sisters and brothers, and the general public that need to hear our voices. So many people truly have no idea about the mistreatment that we suffer, how widespread it is and how few protections exist to ensure that most basic of human rights: the right to live lives of peace and dignity. Those are the people we need to speak to, because it is their sense of justice and morality that we need to invoke if we ever want things to change.

Is it scary to step forward and say, “I am trans, this is wrong and it must stop”? Of course, it is. But there are also rich rewards in showing the world that we are proud of who we are, that we refuse to cower in the darkness of ignorance and hate any longer, and in knowing that we are helping to change the world, not just for ourselves, but for people everywhere. Join me! Today do just one thing to make the world a better place to live, whether that’s giving a hug to a friend you know is having a hard time, writing a letter to the editor or simply telling your story. But, most of all, Be Who You Are!!

(Cross-posted from my personal blog.)