TV & Radio
2 found guilty in party killing of teen
Jury deadlocks on 3rd defendant in transgender case
- Henry K. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
An Alameda County jury found two men guilty Monday of second-degree murder in the killing of Newark transgender teenager Gwen Araujo but rejected allegations that the crime was committed with hate on the basis of her gender orientation.
The eight-man, four-woman jury, after deliberating for a week in the second trial in Araujo's slaying, agreed that Michael Magidson and Jose Merel, both 25, had beaten and strangled Araujo after learning that the person they had had sex with was biologically male.
But the panel deadlocked 9-3 in favor of a murder conviction on a third defendant, Jason Cazares, 25. Jurors left the Hayward courthouse through a back entrance and did not speak to reporters.
Merel and Magidson face sentences of 15 years to life in prison in the slaying, which occurred during a party in October 2002 that ended with the defendants burying Araujo in a shallow grave in the Sierra foothills. The case attracted nationwide media attention and thrust the issue of transgender rights into the spotlight. The first trial ended in June 2004 with the jury deadlocked on charges against all three men.
Araujo's family cheered the murder convictions.
"I know a lot of us are tired -- I'm tired," said Araujo's mother, Sylvia Guerrero, flanked by family members and prosecutor Chris Lamiero outside the Hayward Hall of Justice. "Nothing's going to bring Gwen back, I know that, but this is at least a step toward closure and healing for my family, which is desperately needed at this point."
The jury's rejection of the hate crime enhancement and its refusal to find Merel and Magidson guilty of first-degree murder disappointed transgender advocates.
Magidson showed no emotion when a court clerk read the verdicts in the packed courtroom of Judge Harry Sheppard. Magidson's attorney, Michael Thorman, reserved judgment until he learns in detail what led jurors to their decision.
Merel cried and hid his face in his hands. His attorney, William Du Bois, said, "I don't think the evidence supported it, plain and simple, and I can't imagine what evidence they used to come to this decision on Jose."
Both Magidson and Merel had testified for the first time in their retrial. Their attorneys said they were considering appealing the verdicts.
Cazares, the only defendant who had been free on bail, emerged from the courtroom in tears and hugged his wife, Lisa Munn. Asked whether he would enjoy his freedom, Cazares said, "Oh yeah, of course."
His attorney, J. Tony Serra, said jurors didn't believe the testimony of the prosecution's star witness, Jaron Nabors, who had claimed that all three men exploded in anger upon learning that Araujo was biologically male but had lived and identified as a young woman.
Serra said Nabors was culpable in the slaying and lied on the stand "to save his own skin."
"This was not a hate crime," Serra said. "It was not a killing because of gender."
Serra said a third trial against his client was unlikely because the community at large would be aware that a jury had deadlocked twice against Cazares.
Lamiero said jurors had returned verdicts that they believed were "just and appropriate."
"That's all we can ask," said Lamiero, who said it was difficult to summarize why the jury returned murder convictions when the first panel could not. "It evolved differently," he said of the second trial. "We learned things that we didn't necessarily know in the first case. The defenses were different."
At the retrial, Merel testified that he was disgusted to learn that Araujo wasn't the woman he thought he'd had sex with -- but said he did not want her to die that night. He reluctantly told jurors last month that Magidson had strangled Araujo.
Magidson testified that it was Nabors who admitted to him that he had killed Araujo, although Magidson had confessed to police on videotape that he had strangled Araujo.
Guerrero's attorney, Gloria Allred, said she believed the jury cleared Merel and Magidson of hate crime charges because the allegations are relatively new for juries in cases involving transgender victims. Over time, that might change, she said, as the public understands the plight of transgender individuals.
"Gwen was not there to deceive anyone," Allred said. "She had the right to live honestly."
Nabors testified at both trials that Merel and Magidson grew worried about Araujo's gender after having oral and anal sex with her in the weeks before the fatal confrontation during a party at Merel's home.
Nabors, 22, who led police to Araujo's body, was charged with murder but pleaded guilty in 2003 to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for testifying against his friends.
Earlier Monday, jurors told the judge they were deadlocked on one of the men, who was not named but turned out to be Cazares. The verdicts for Magidson and Merel had been sealed since Thursday.
The judge will sentence Magidson on Jan. 6. Merel will be back in court Oct. 28 to set a sentencing date. Prosecutors will announce at a Nov. 18 hearing whether they will retry Cazares.
E-mail Henry K. Lee at email@example.com.
Page A - 1
2 Convicted of Murdering Transgender Teen
Tuesday September 13, 2005 4:31 AM
By MICHELLE LOCKE
Associated Press Writer
HAYWARD, Calif. (AP) - Two men who had sex with a transgender teen and then discovered she was biologically male were convicted Monday of her murder, but cleared of hate crime charges.
Michael Magidson and Jose Merel, both 25, face mandatory sentences of 15 years-to-life in prison for second-degree murder in the killing of Gwen Araujo, who was beaten, tied up and strangled.
The jury was deadlocked in the case of a third man, Jason Cazares, 25, marking the second time a mistrial was declared in his case.
The victim's mother, Sylvia Guerrero, expressed satisfaction with the two guilty verdicts.
``Nothing is going to bring Gwen back. I know that. But this is at least a step toward closure,'' she said.
Araujo, 17, was born a boy named Edward but grew up to believe her true identity was female. The defendants, who knew her as Lida, met her in the summer of 2002. Magidson and Merel had sexual encounters with her, experiences that fueled suspicions about Araujo's gender.
The issue boiled over in the early hours of Oct. 4, 2002, in a confrontation at Merel's house in the San Francisco suburb of Newark.
In the first trial, the three defendants stuck together, with their lawyers attacking the chief prosecution witness, Jaron Nabors, who was also at the house the night Araujo died but was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter.
But in the second trial, the defendants' united front cracked, with Merel implicating Magidson.
Nabors testified at both trials that Araujo was savagely attacked after her biological identity was revealed when her underwear was pulled aside. He said he didn't see the killing but saw Magidson pull a rope toward the teen's neck.
Magidson testified that he beat and tied up Araujo, adding that while he couldn't remember large parts of the night he was sure he had not strangled her. He said Nabors was the killer and his attorney asked for a manslaughter conviction.
But Merel, testifying for the first time, broke down and cried when prosecutor Chris Lamiero asked him directly if Magidson had admitted strangling Araujo. He testified that Magidson had told him ``if push came to shove'' Merel should identify Magidson as the killer.
Magidson's sentencing was set for Jan. 6. Attorneys are to discuss setting a date for Merel on Oct. 28.
Magidson's attorney, Michael Thorman, said his client would appeal the latest verdict.
An autopsy found that Araujo died of asphyxiation associated with head injuries.
Nabors testified that Merel smashed Araujo in the head with a can and hit her with a pan. Merel said he slapped Arroyo and hit her a glancing blow with the pan, but he denied seriously injuring her.
Merel's lawyer, William Du Bois, said he was shocked by the murder verdict, especially since Lamiero had said he didn't think Merel was the killer. If Merel was guilty of anything, Du Bois said, it was felony assault.
Cazares said he was outside the house when the killing took place and only helped bury the body in a shallow grave in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Two Guilty of Murder in Death of a Transgender Teenager
By CAROLYN MARSHALL
Published: September 13, 2005 - New York Times
HAYWARD, Calif., Sept. 12 - A jury convicted two men of murder on Monday but deadlocked on the fate of a third man in the retrial of three defendants charged with killing a 17-year-old transgender teenager in October 2002.
The two - Michael W. Magidson and Jose A. Merel, both 25 - were found guilty of second-degree murder for the death of Gwen Araujo, who was born as a male named Eddie Araujo Jr., but who frequently wore women's clothing and lived as a women.
After the verdict was read, Mr. Magidson bowed his head and Mr. Merel slowly shook his. They face sentences of 15 years to life in prison.
The jury found both men not guilty of committing a hate crime.
The actions of the third man, Jason Cazares, also 25, confounded a jury for the second time in two years. The panel, which heard the case for several months in a packed Alameda County Superior Court room, told Judge Harry R. Sheppard that they were hopelessly deadlocked on the fate of Mr. Cazares.
Jurors had been deliberating for seven days in the retrial of Mr. Magidson, of Fremont, and Mr. Merel and Mr. Cazares, both of Newark. The three were charged with first-degree murder and with committing a hate crime, although the jury had the option of finding the men guilty of lesser charges, including manslaughter.
The police found the victim's body in October 2002, buried in a three-foot-deep grave in El Dorado County in a remote area of the Sierra Nevada foothills about 120 miles east of San Francisco. She had been bound, bludgeoned and strangled on Oct. 4.
According to court testimony, Ms. Araujo's mother had reported her missing two weeks earlier and just a few days after the 17-year-old youth had attended a party at a house in Newark, then rented by Mr. Merel and his older brother.
The Alameda County deputy district attorney, Chris Lamiero, argued during the retrial that the men attacked and battered Ms. Araujo after they discovered from a friend that the girl with whom several had had a sexual encounter was, in fact, a biological male.
Mr. Lamiero's key witness to the crime was a fourth defendant, Jaron C. Nabors, 22, of Newark. Mr. Nabors was also charged with murder but agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for his testimony against the other three men.
His testimony revealed that all of the men, except Mr. Cazares, had a sexual encounter with the teenager. The jury of eight men and four women began its deliberations on Aug. 30 and on Thursday alerted Judge Sheppard that decisions had been reached on two of the defendants. The verdicts and identities of the men were withheld pending a decision on the third man.
During the three-month trial, the prosecutor told jurors that Ms. Araujo had been murdered by the men in what he considered a brutal hate crime. The prosecutor argued that Mr. Magidson strangled the teenager, Mr. Cazares beat in her skull with a shovel, and Mr. Merel followed along because he said he felt intimidated.
The lawyers for the defendants in part argued that the death of Ms. Araujo was a crime of passion that did not merit a charge of first-degree murder. The lawyer for Mr. Cazares, the defendant on whom the jury deadlocked, argued that his client was not even present during the murder, because he was outside having a cigarette.
All three men testified during the retrial. But only Mr. Cazares took the stand at the first trial, in June 2004, when the jury deadlocked after 10 days of deliberation, leading to a mistrial.
Posted on Mon, Sep. 12, 2005
Two found guilty of 2nd degree murder in Araujo case, jury deadlocks on third man
By Yomi S. Wronge
San Jose Mercury News
An Alameda County jury this afternoon convicted two defendants for the killing of a transgender Newark teenager, but deadlocked on the third defendant.
Capping the second trial in the Gwen Araujo case, the jury found Michael Magidson and Jose Merel guilty of second degree murder in verdicts unsealed this afternoon in Hayward. But the four-woman, eight-man jury deadlocked 9-3 in favor of a second degree murder conviction for Jason Cazares.
Judge Harry Sheppard declared .wa mistrial in Cazares' case. It will be up to the Alameda County District Attorney to decide whether to pursue a third trial against him.
Magidson and Merel could received 15 years to life in prison.
This was the second trial for the three men, who grew up in southern Alameda County. Last year a mistrial was declared after a previous jury deadlocked on charges against Magidson, Cazares and Merel, who are all 25 years old. The district attorney's office refiled the charges, and the second trial began June 1.
The jury had been deliberating since Aug. 31. By last week, they had reportedly reached verdicts on two defendants, but reportedly had reached an impasse on the third defendant.
Defense lawyers in the first trial seemed to work in tandem, at once attacking the credibility of the state's star witness -- Jaron Nabors, a fourth man who was part of the killing and struck a deal with prosecutors to avoid a lengthy prison sentence -- and asserting that Gwen's killing was manslaughter, a lesser offense committed in the heat of passion by young men suddenly and violently confused about their own sexuality.
Cazares was the only defendant to take the stand during the first trial. All three testified in their own defense in the retrial.
Magidson told jurors that Nabors killed Gwen, Merel said Magidson told him he killed the victim, and Cazares said he was outside Merel's Newark house smoking when the slaying occurred. Magidson confessed to killing following his arrest, but during the retrial he said he did not strangle Gwen and made the confession out of misguided loyalty to his friend.
According to prosecutor Chris Lamiero, Gwen was killed at Merel's house in the early morning hours of Oct. 4, 2002. She was choked, punched, bound and gagged by Magidson, whose raged boiled over when he discovered he had been intimate with a biological male.
A medical examiner has determined that Gwen died of blunt trauma and asphyxiation due to strangulation.
Cazares, he asserted, helped Magidson by keeping things under control until other witnesses left the scene and by retrieving shovels from his own house to bury the teen.
The group drove to South Lake Tahoe and buried the body in a shallow grave. On the way home, the guys stopped for breakfast at McDonald's, where they swore one another to secrecy.
J. Tony Serra, Cazares' attorney, said the defendants were caught up in extraordinary circumstances: the discovery that girl they had sex with was anatomically male, igniting a '' classic crime of passion.''
And defense lawyers collectively attacked Nabors, alleging he was more involved in the killing than he or the prosecution indicated.
Contact Yomi S. Wronge at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5744.
Posted on Mon, Sep. 12, 2005
Timeline of the case
ARAUJO CASE TIMELINE It's been almost three years since Gwen Araujo was killed in a Newark house. Here are some important dates in the case:
Oct. 4, 2002: 17-year-old Gwen Araujo killed in Jose Merel's Newark home. Her body is buried near South Lake Tahoe.
Oct. 18: Merel, Michael Magidson and Jaron Nabors arrested and charged with murder.
Nov. 18: A fourth suspect, Jason Cazares of Newark, is arrested and charged with murder.
Feb. 24, 2003: Nabors agrees to testify for the prosecution and plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
April 14, 2004: First trial of Cazares, Magidson and Merel begins in a Hayward courtroom.
June 22: Mistrial declared after jury deadlocks on first- and second-degree murder charges.
June 1, 2005: Retrial begins.
Today (September 12): Jury convicts Magidson and Merel of second degree murder, but deadlocks 9-3 in favor of second degree murder for Cazares. Mistrial declared in the Cazares case.