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Posts Tagged ‘Allen Andrade’

When I heard yesterday that the jury in the trial of Allen Andrade, the man charged with murdering Angie Zapata, had reached a verdict in less than two hours, I was hopeful, since a quick verdict usually means that the prosecution’s evidence was so overwhelming that the jury saw no need for extended discussion. As I watched the judge read the verdicts convicting Andrade on all counts, my hope turned to elation. To the extent that our criminal justice system can actually deliver “justice,” the jury did everything that we could have hoped for. My elation, however, was, and will always be, tempered by the knowledge that Angie, a beautiful young trans woman, will never have the opportunity to live the life of peace and dignity that all of us, trans- and cisgender alike, deserve.

For the rest of the day, I surfed the Web to see what others were saying about this truly momentous event. There I found several people expressing concern that the jury’s verdicts may be vulnerable on appeal on the theory that the short duration of their deliberations indicates a failure to adequately consider the evidence. My experience as a criminal appeals attorney, however, tells me that there is no reason for such concern.

The Weld County District Attorney’s Office charged Andrade with first degree murder and a bias-motivated (i.e., “hate”) crime for bludgeoning Angie to death with a fire extinguisher that he found in her apartment. Before the trial began, however, his attorneys asked the judge to tell the jurors that they had the option of convicting Andrade of second degree murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, instead of first degree murder. Much to my surprise, the judge agreed and instructed the jury on all four types of homicide as “lesser included offenses.” (A “lesser included offense” is a crime that contains some, but not all, of the elements of the greater charge, such that it’s impossible to commit the greater offense without also committing the lesser. As long as the evidence supports a conviction on the lesser offense, the Constitution requires that the jury be given the option to consider both the greater and the lesser offenses.)

The law on when the jury can pass over the greater offense and consider convicting the defendant on a lesser included varies from state to state. In this case, the judge instructed the jurors that they could not consider any of the lesser included offenses until and unless they first found Andrade not guilty of first degree murder. Thus, there was no reason for the jury to spend any time on those offenses until they decided whether to convict Andrade on the primary charge.

Throughout the trial, Andrade and his attorneys admitted that he killed Angie. That admission meant that the jury only had to answer two questions on the first degree murder charge: (1) was the murder intentional, i.e., was killing Angie his goal when he began to beat her with the fire extinguisher; and (2) was the murder committed “after deliberation,” i.e., was it premeditated. As the jury’s quick verdict demonstrates, those two questions were pretty easy to answer. Here’s why.

First, bashing someone in the head with a fire extinguisher multiple times until her skull is crushed is a pretty good indicator that Andrade’s purpose was to kill Angie. After all, you don’t do that thinking, “Hmmm, she might or might not die if I bash her head in. Let’s try it and see what happens.” In addition, the autopsy showed that Andrade didn’t hit Angie any place other than her head. You don’t hit someone with a lethal weapon in the head but nowhere else unless you intend to kill her. In other words, because of the way he did it, it’s clear that Andrade intended to kill, not merely injure, Angie. Thus, the murder was intentional.

Second, because the most damaging portions of his confession were suppressed, the jury didn’t get to hear Andrade tell Det. Tharp that he hit Angie with the fire extinguisher the first time and thought she was dead; then, while he was going through her apartment figuring out what to steal, he heard Angie “gurgle” and saw her sit up, so he went back with the fire extinguisher and, this time, made sure she was dead. That’s absolutely conclusive evidence of premeditation, but, as I said, the jury didn’t get to hear it.

What they did get to hear is that Andrade started beating Angie with his fists. Apparently dissatisfied with the damage he could do with his fists alone, Andrade paused, took the fire extinguisher down from the wall of Angie’s apartment and used it to kill her. That pause, even if all he had to do was reach over and grab the extinguisher without taking a single step, was ample time for the premeditation or deliberation that the law requires for first degree murder.

Deliberation or premeditation, however, requires more than just the passage of time. It requires the prosecution to prove that the defendant actually reflected on or thought about what he was doing before delivering the fatal blow. So, how do we know what Andrade was thinking during that pause while he grabbed the fire extinguisher? The answer to that question is similar to the answer to the first one. We know Andrade was thinking about how he was going to kill Angie, because you don’t grab a lethal weapon like a fire extinguisher, after beating someone with your fists, and then use it to bash in her skull unless your plan is to kill her.

At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, but what about the evidence (primarily the things Andrade said to his girlfriends from jail) that indicated that Andrade acted impulsively and without thinking or even knowing what he was doing? It’s true that there was plenty of evidence that the jury could have relied on to acquit Andrade of first degree murder. The beauty, and sometimes the bane, of the jury system in this country, however, is that it simply doesn’t matter how much contrary evidence there was. What matters is whether the prosecution presented enough evidence for a reasonable jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Because there was more than enough evidence for the jury to convict Andrade, he and his family (and any other supporters he may have) can complain that the jury should have believed his evidence, not the prosecution’s, for as long and as vehemently as they want. In the end, however, it simply doesn’t matter.

How do I know all this and why am I so confident in my conclusions? As I explained in my previous post, I’m an attorney. Because of the nature of my practice, for the last 12 years, I have done nothing but pour through the record of trials like this one on behalf of defendants like Andrade looking for claims that their convictions were improper, for example, because there wasn’t enough evidence. Every single time during those 12 years that I have argued that the jury made a mistake because there wasn’t enough evidence, the appeals court has “schooled” me by showing me that, regardless of how I think the evidence should have been interpreted, it was perfectly reasonable for the jury to see it differently and convict my clients. The bottom line from that experience is that, where the evidence is disputed and the jury chooses to believe the prosecution, the defendant always loses.

Because of all of these factors, there’s no chance Andrade’s convictions will be overturned on appeal for lack of evidence and any concern about the fact that the jury only took 2 hours to convict him won’t even be a footnote when the Colorado courts reject his appeal.

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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!

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