DENVER — A Colorado man who says he bludgeoned his date to death out of rage and shock after discovering she was biologically male was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder and a hate crime.
Jurors deliberated about two hours before finding Allen Ray Andrade, 32, guilty of killing Angie Zapata, 18, of Greeley last July. District Judge Marcelo Kopcow swiftly sentenced him to life in prison without possibility of parole -- the state's mandatory sentence for first-degree murder.
Zapata, a transsexual, had dressed as female for much of her life, her family said. The case was among the first uses of a hate-crimes statute that protects transgendered people.
The victim's mother, Maria Zapata, told the judge before sentencing: "It's been so hard, so hard for my family and myself. . . . I lost something, somebody so precious."
But she said Andrade could never take away "the love and the memories my family and I have of my baby -- my beautiful, beautiful baby."
Gay, lesbian and transsexual groups hailed the jury's decision.
"Today's verdict was about justice for Angie Zapata, although no verdict will ever be able to heal the tragic loss experienced by Angie's family," said Neil G. Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "The past few months have offered Greeley residents, as well as people throughout Colorado and across the nation, an opportunity to better understand transgender lives and the horrifying reality of anti-transgender violence."
Activists noted that the conviction occurred in a conservative, largely rural county.
"Finally, a rural county sheriff and prosecutor step up to the plate," said Kate Bowman of the Gender Identity Center of Colorado. "That's got to make people think it's time to do something."
Bowman is among those who advocate a federal hate-crimes statute. A bill introduced in Congress this year would give the federal government the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated crimes in which the victim was selected because of race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Colorado is one of 11 states with hate-crimes laws that protect transgendered people. In California, a similar high-profile case involved Gwen Araujo, 17, of Newark, who was beaten and strangled in 2002 after two men with whom she'd had sex learned she was biologically male. They were convicted of second-degree murder, but not of a hate crime.
Zapata met Andrade, a convicted felon from Thornton, on a social-networking website in July, according to the arrest affidavit. On July 16, they went on a date, Andrade said, and Zapata performed oral sex on him but would not permit him to touch her. According to the affidavit, Andrade said he became suspicious about Zapata's gender, grabbed her crotch and learned the truth. In a rage, he said, he beat her to death with a fire extinguisher.
Andrade's attorneys referred to Zapata by her given name, Justin, and contended that their client had reacted due to shock at the sexual deceit.
But prosecutors, who referred to the deceased as "she" and "Angie," said that the two had met via a website that catered to gay and transgendered people and that the couple had known each other for three days -- plenty of time for Andrade to understand Angie's biological gender. They noted that Andrade had accompanied her to traffic court, where clerks called her Justin.
Prosecutors said Andrade was a homophobe who preyed on Zapata and pointed to recorded calls he made from jail in which he called the victim "it" and said: "Someone living like that needs to be held accountable."
Defense attorney Annette Kundelius did not return a call for comment. During the trial, she told jurors that Andrade had been joking.
"Was it in poor taste? Was it a smart thing to say?" Kundelius said. "No. But it doesn't mean he committed murder."
Andrade did not testify. When the judge asked if he had anything to say before sentencing, he responded, "No."
DeeDee Correll contributed to this report.