Trans Panic Defense Underway in Trial for Angie Zapata’s Murder

angie-zapata2I 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

0 thoughts on “Trans Panic Defense Underway in Trial for Angie Zapata’s Murder

  1. Pingback: Feministe » Trans Panic Defense Underway in Trial for Angie Zapata’s Murder

  2. Jackson

    I’ve been following the trial too (on as well as @Greeleytribune and @Justiceforangie on Twitter) and it’s just been degrading as all hell to listen to the defense talk the way they do. They’re so calculated about referring to Angie as “Justin” and using masculine pronouns even when people on the stands correct them in tears… I like to think anyone with a soul on that jury could see how callous this is, but I unfortunately have doubts that they are enlightened enough on trans issues to understand.

  3. SunlessNick

    Surely, the strategy could backfire. It could. And I hope it will.

    Hopefully, the family will include it in their victim impact statement (if they’re allowed one).

    But like you, I’m ill at the inherent horror in simply being able to use bigotry as a defence.

  4. GringaSalsera

    the composition of the jury is a legitimate concern. Knowing how juries are narrowed down, I wouldn’t be surprised if they weeded out anyone who might be “too pro-trans rights” or something, under the idea that they would be too biased, when such people would probably be the only potential jury members that, as you say, have their trans 101 down, and would therefore actually be the least biased (since I’m not sure they would make the same efforts to weed out anyone with anti-trans sentiments)

    Also, I think perhaps one reason the defense is using male pronouns and a male name for her could be because if there were no mistaking that she were female, her being an innocent victim might be more obvious? But if she is seen as a man, or more confusingly as a fake woman or, whatever they are trying to make of her, as you say, the percieved deception would unfortunately be at the forefront of the average person’s thinking.

  5. Ily

    Ugh, that does turn my stomach…although I agree, I hope the plan backfires. I thought the only excuse for murder was self-defense. “Deception” doesn’t come close.

  6. SunlessNick

    I thought the only excuse for murder was self-defense.

    And that is the essence of the trans panic defence – the idea that trans people are assaulting cis people simply by existing, so anything cis people do to them comes under self-defence.

  7. space

    The whole concept of “trans panic” is complete BS. If finding out someone is not what you thought they were is justification for murdering them, then every politician who changes his or her mind after a campaign and does not fulfill his or her promises ought to be murdered. And you know someone who murdered said politician would almost surely go to jail…unless, perhaps, they were another, more powerful politician.

  8. Renee

    Though I do understand about the trans panic defense and how horrible it is , from what I have been able to understand though Angie identified as a woman she had yet to legally change her name and that is why I was wondering if there was some legal twisting about her referring to her incorrectly. From a court show that I was watching when they read the charges against her murderer they were forced to use her male name because that was her legal name. Does anyone have any more information on this?m

    1. Cara Post author

      Renee, as far as I know, it’s not an issue during the court proceedings. The prosecution is using her correct name, and the defense is not. I can only assume that if there was some kind of bullshit transphobic standard like that, it would apply to both prosecution and defense.

  9. jovan byars

    “Trans panic” is not a defense and it shouldn’t be used as a defense.

    What Mr. Andrade did in killing Ms. Zapata was a hate crime straight up. Here’s to hoping he will never see the light of day again.

  10. Jennifer

    I was taught throughout my school years that all prejudices in the courtroom were gone. obviously, that’s wrong. just reading what the defense is saying about Angie is enough to make any sensible human being feel sick.

  11. Brandy

    This defense is bunk. It’s just more of the same victim blaming crap that you seen thrown around so abundantly when crimes against women are discussed or brought into court. It’s gender violence apologism for his horrible acts.

    Angie was killed because she was a woman. The problem Andrade had was that he didn’t understand that for a person to be a woman, they didn’t have to fit into his narrow and cisgendered socially imposed definition.

    Also, though the violence against Angie is not necessarily the focus of this post (the defense of her attacker is), shouldn’t it still get the tag of “violence against women and girls” since it is associated?

    1. Cara Post author

      Argh, my apologies, Brandy . . . for some reason I paid more attention to the tags (which are only able to be seen by search engines) than the categories (which are for site navigation) on this post. (But opposite at Feministe — maybe having to tag/categorieze it at two places confused my brain?) I had “misogyny” and “violence against women” in my tags but not in my categories (and “misogyny” over in my categories at Feministe, though there is no generic “violence against women” category). They’re usually the last thing I do and I never proofread them . . . clearly I need to start.

  12. Ryan

    TBH I don’t even understand the defense’s strategy. Does it really matter what the defendent did or did not know? He was not insane, yet he choose to lethally assault another person. How can that be considered anything but murder? It just seems so painfully obvious.

  13. little light

    Sunlessnick: And that is the essence of the trans panic defence – the idea that trans people are assaulting cis people simply by existing, so anything cis people do to them comes under self-defence.

    Hammer, meet nail. That’s it precisely. Existing as trans counts as provocation. It counts as deserving it. The murderer is the “real” victim, and he’s the one who’s been hurt worse, according to a lot of people.

    GringaSalsera’s mention of victim status being linked to Ms. Zapata’s womanhood is germane, too. Because when you remove the trans part of the narrative, it goes like this:

    A thirtysomething gang member with a girlfriend and a criminal record trolls online dating sites and finds an 18-year-old girl who’s by-and-large considered wholesome and kind, with a supportive, stable family, who he then seduces. He learns that she’s in a vulnerable social position while he’s setting up a date. Shortly after they fool around together, he lets himself into her house, waits for her to get home, and then sexually assaults her, beats her to death, and steals her credit cards and car as well as some of her possessions, some of which he gives as gifts to his girlfriend after dumping the murder weapon by the highway, which is later found with physical evidence of the crime intact. He admits on the phone that the victim needed to die and that he took his sweet time with beating her to death. His confession of the murder and robbery are recorded and admissible evidence.

    When you leave out the “trans” part, that’s cut-and-dried for just about any jury in the country. 30ish guy meets a vulnerable 18-year-old girl, gets her to sleep with him, and then breaks into her home, murders her, and takes off with her car and credit cards while bragging about it on the phone to his girlfriend? That narrative, supported by physical evidence and a recorded, admissible confession, is called an open-and-shut case, and the public and jury sympathy for the pretty, sweet, murdered 18-year-old girl in question is basically ironclad.

    Unless she’s trans. And then suddenly Andrade is sympathetic, and she’s the real criminal here, because “things” like her deserve to die, and just existing counts as an assault that cries out for a “self-defense” retaliation. Whammo. The case is a different kind of open-and-shut, all of a sudden.

  14. Greg H

    It doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t know the sex of Angie-it wasn’t even a surprise to him. Murder is murder. IMHO, he deserves maximum sentence, 1st degree murder, hate crime, everything.

  15. SunlessNick

    …breaks into her home, murders her, and takes off with her car and credit cards while bragging about it on the phone to his girlfriend?

    And apparently does all this while in one of the stealthiest uncontrollable rages ever.

    But taking Greg H’s point into account, it’s sick that the implausibility of his claim is even worth discussion.

  16. Pingback: Defense Attorney Argues That No Doesn’t Always Mean No : The Curvature

  17. Pingback: Breaking: Allen Andrade Convicted of First Degree Murder : The Curvature

  18. Pingback: The Advocate Misgenders Trans Woman : The Curvature

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