DENVER – Angie Zapata was a tall woman with striking black hair and eyes who would attract the attention of men, even those who knew she was biologically male.
But prosecutors say when Allen Andrade found out, he beat her to death with a fire extinguisher. Her sister discovered her battered body under a blanket in her Greeley apartment last July.
Andrade, 32, of Thorton, is scheduled to go on trial Tuesday on charges including first-degree murder and a bias-motivated crime, which could add three years to his prison sentence if convicted.
Andrade told investigators that he struck Zapata twice in the head with the extinguisher and thought he had "killed it" before hitting her again as she struggled to get up, an arrest affidavit said. The pair met through a mobile networking site and had spent the night.
Andrade is being held without bond at the Weld County jail. A message left for Kevin Strobel, head of the Greeley public defender's office, which is representing Andrade, was not immediately returned.
Nearly a year after her death, friends and family continue to cope with the loss of the 18-year-old Zapata, who grew up in Fort Lupton, a farming community of about 6,800 people, before moving to Greeley to help her sister Monica care for her kids.
Monica Zapata and 20-year-old Rochelle Camacho, Angie Zapata's friend since kindergarten, recalled Angie's life and her struggle with dating as a transgender woman.
The young Justin Zapata, as Angie was first known, preferred to gel his hair in a girl's hairstyle and grow out his fingernails, even at a young age.
"She wore a bra to second grade stuffed with a hard paper towel," said Camacho. "We were on the playground, and I took some of the paper towel out, and asked what is he doing. And from then on, I knew."
Camacho was 13 when she first saw Justin Zapata dress as Angie. Angie wore jeans, a tight top and a pullover to hide her flat chest for a walk around a Fort Lupton neighborhood. A male friend didn't recognize her.
She started living as a girl at age 16.
"I couldn't even take Angie to the laundry mat because she would draw a lot of attention," Monica Zapata said. "Even the girls would go up to her and be all, 'How do you do your makeup like that?"'
There were also stares and whispers from strangers and a long line of heterosexual suitors disappointed at the news that she was biologically male.
"I heard her conversations. 'Hey, before we go any further, I have something to tell you.' A lot of times I would see she would be on the phone and she'd be, 'Hello? Hello?" said Monica Zapata. "Some would hang up on her. Other times, some would be asking questions."
Angie Zapata had several relationships, including one with a heterosexual man that lasted four months, Monica Zapata said. But that relationship ended the way most did — with the boyfriend dating a biological woman.
"They'd say, 'I'd thought I could, but I can't,"' recalled Monica Zapata. "She would cry."
Andrade was arrested July 30, nearly two weeks after Angie Zapata's body was found.
A judge last month threw out part of Andrade's confession, saying police didn't honor his request to remain silent 39 minutes into his interrogation. Tape-recorded jail calls in which Andrade allegedly told his girlfriend that he "snapped" and that "gay things need to die" will be allowed by District Judge Marcelo Kopcow during the trial.
Andrade is believed to be the first person tried for a hate crime under the sexual orientation section of Colorado's hate crime law, according to the New York and Los Angeles-based Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD. Colorado is one of 11 states to have such designations in their laws, according to GLAAD.
State court officials say 70 felony hate crimes have been prosecuted since 2005, when the statutes were amended to include sexual orientation. But the law also covers crimes motivated by religion and race, and statistics aren't kept by group.
The Washington-based Human Rights Campaign hopes Zapata's case sheds light on the need to pass a bill introduced April 2 in the U.S. House that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal hate crime law. Doing so would not only send a message that targeting people is wrong, it would allow the FBI and federal agencies to investigate such crimes, said Cristina Finch, senior counsel for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.
"It's part of the process of educating Americans that transgender Americans, they're just like the rest of us," Finch said. "They deserve the right to live just like the rest of us, free from discrimination and violence."