I have been very closely following the Twitter feed by JusticeforAngie, which is live-tweeting the trial of Allen Andrade for the murder of Angie Zapata. The details of the case have been absolutely engrossing; they have also made me feel quite physically and emotionally ill, particularly on the day that opening arguments began, and the defense’s strategy became clear.
Close to the time that Angie Zapata was murdered last July, I wrote a post about the clear signs that the defense was going to use the wildly bigoted “trans panic” defense — in which someone is supposedly and “understandably” so enraged upon learning that another person is trans that they murder that person — to excuse Andrade’s actions. That educated and easy to make guess has indeed come to fruition.
One strategy the defense is using is to repeatedly misgender Angie by referring to her by masculine pronouns and a male “legal name” which she herself did not use:
The first few times, it almost seemed like the public defenders were misspeaking.
But then, those watching the murder trial of Allen Andrade started muttering under their breaths. Witnesses on the stand continued to correct the attorneys questioning them.
Family members and friends echoed repeatedly, “my sister,” “Angie,” one by one on the stand Friday as public defenders Annette Kundelius and Brad Martin questioned them about “_____.” [Male name omitted by me.]
This misgendering has been persistent and unrelenting. The goal is to prove “deception,” and I’m not just inferring that from the strategy the defense has shown — rather, they have admitted it. They admit that Andrade murdered Angie — they are, however, claiming that he had a good reason to do so and could not control his actions once he learned that he had been “deceived” by Angie and her gender presentation.
This is despite the fact that, according to Justice for Angie’s tweets, family members and friends have repeatedly stated under oath that Angie regularly identified herself as trans, particularly to men. And it is also despite the even more important fact that even if Angie did not regularly openly discuss the fact that she was trans, portraying herself as the woman that she was was in absolutely no way “deceptive.” To suggest otherwise is, quite simply, the height of transphobia, and one of the most common tropes in existence.
But the goal is to confuse the jury. With the defense using masculine pronouns and an incorrect name to refer to Angie, and the prosecution referring to her with her correct name and feminine pronouns, the jury member’s heads will be going back and forth. And the majority of whom are likely not even schooled in trans 101 are going to feel confused, because it plays into societal prejudices that we’re taught from an exceedingly early age.
Certainly, those who do know better, or at least have some basic compassion for fellow human beings, may feel as angry at this misgendering as I and many others do. This is particularly the case when Angie’s friends and family have been persistent in correcting the defense’s misgendering attempts during cross examination, and have displayed emotional distress at having to do so. Surely, the strategy could backfire. It could. And I hope it will. But I’m sure as hell not going to hold my breath.
The good news is that the prosecution has dropped an important bombshell — they’re making the claim that Andrade knew of Angie’s trans status for 36 hours prior to the murder. If they can convince the jury of this, they have negated the defense’s argument that Andrade acted in a wild, spontaneous, uncontrollable rage on wholly factual terms (rather than attempting to sway the ingrained opinion that such a reaction would be valid and excusable), and instead established the murder as premeditated.
It’s also worth emphasizing that Andrade is not being tried only on murder charges — he’s also being tried on hate crimes charges, the allegation being that he killed Angie because she was trans. Taking this into account, the defense is actually doing a bulk of the prosecution’s work for them. In order to claim that Andrade killed Angie Zapata because he was enraged upon finding out she was trans, they also have little choice but to claim that he killed her because she was trans.
But I also don’t trust a jury to necessarily interpret the argument that way. Remember, we’re dealing with the extreme prejudice that being violently angry upon learning that a potential or actual sexual partner is transgender is somehow a normal reaction. And though I think they probably ought to be, I’m not sure that the prosecution is actually pointing out the above flaw in the defense’s logic, either.
And so for now, we have to stay tuned, and hope that somehow, someway, justice will overcome prejudice. And do so with the distressing knowledge that it rarely has in the past.
Selected Further Reading:
Bird of Paradox: Has the Trans Panic Defense Been Undermined?
Transgriot: Andrade Trial Opening Impressions
Pam’s House Blend: What Does “Justice for Angie” Mean?
Pam’s House Blend: Are People Like Angie and Me Deceptive?
Questioning Transphobia: What’s in a name?
Justice for Angie: Twitter Feed
(If there is something excellent and/or important that I have missed, please leave a link in the comments, and I will update.)
cross-posted at Feministe