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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signs bills at Station 8 of the Colorado Springs Fire Dept. in this Gazette file photo.

Some people fear or claim to fear LGBTQ individuals. On this basis, they justify crimes against them.

Incredibly, in the 21st century, we have lawyers who back them in court, and jurors and judges who buy it. Lawyers tell judges and juries their clients panicked at discovering a victim’s nonheterosexual orientation. In a state of panic, the client caused bodily harm or killed someone. Please excuse this behavior, they argue, because the defendant acted on impulse in a state of fear.

This disgusting defense famously found the spotlight in Colorado in 2008 after Allen Andrade, 31 at the time, murdered 18-year-old Angie Zapata in her Greeley apartment. During a consensual sexual encounter, Andrada discovered Zapata’s male genitalia. Based on court testimony, Zapata smiled and told Andrade not to worry because “I’m all woman.”

Andrade responded by bludgeoning Zapata to death with a fire extinguisher. Because Andrade fears transgender people, the lawyer claimed, he should not face a first-degree murder charge.

“At best, this is a case about passion,” said defense attorney Annette Kundelius. “When (Zapata) smiled at him, this was a highly provoking act, and it would cause someone to have an aggressive reaction.”

It did not work, and a jury convicted Andrade of first-degree murder. That’s not always the outcome.

Guitarist Daniel Spencer invited a fellow musician, James Miller, to his apartment in Austin, Texas, to play music. Later that night, Miller killed Spencer by stabbing him four times.

Miller’s lawyer argued the gay panic defense and the client received a six-month jail sentence and 10 years of probation.

Thanks to a state Senate bill signed into law this week by Gov. Jared Polis, the panic defense won’t work in Colorado. Senate Bill 221, passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support, says evidence of a victim’s, defendant’s, or witness’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity offered at trial is “presumed to be irrelevant” under Colorado’s rules of evidence.

“These tactics appeal to irrational fears and hatred of these persons, undermining the legitimacy of criminal prosecutions and resulting in unjustifiable acquittals or sentencing reductions due to bias, fear, shock, or disgust rather than competent evidence,” explains the legislative declaration in SB 221.

Rational adults seem to have a common reaction when hearing about SB 221. Why, they ask, would we need such a law in the year 2020. They ponder how anyone would try to excuse fear of an LGBTQ individual as a rationale for a violent crime. After all, some people fear tattooed teenagers with spikes in their hair. It doesn’t mean they get to harm them.

In signing SB 221, Polis made Colorado the 11th state to forbid the LGBTQ panic defense. That means 39 states continue allowing this injustice.

As often explained in this space, the United States is a work in progress that constantly strives to expand civil liberties. This new law, strengthening justice for victims of crimes, is another good step in the right direction. By enacting it, the Legislature and governor advanced the endless pursuit of liberty and justice for all.

The Gazette Editorial Board

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