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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 September 2005, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
US men kill transgender teenager - BBC
(Photo) The men buried Gwen Araujo in a shallow grave in the Sierra Nevada
Two US men have been found guilty in California of killing a transgender teenager with whom they both had sex.
Michael Magidson and Jose Merel beat, tied up and strangled 17-year-old Gwen Araujo after discovering she was biologically male, the court heard.
Her body was found in a shallow grave in the Sierra Nevada hills soon after the October 2002 killing in Newark.
The men face 15 years to life in jail for murder but were cleared of hate crime charges.
It was the second time the case had gone to court, after a first attempt in 2004 was declared a mistrial.
A mistrial was declared in the case of a third suspect, Jason Cazares. He told the court he only helped bury the victim.
Speaking after the verdict, Ms Araujo's mother Sylvia Guerrero told the Associated Press news agency she was pleased with the outcome.
She said: "Nothing is going to bring Gwen back. I know that. But this is at least a step towards closure."
(Photo) Gwen Araujo was born a boy called Edward but decided she was female
The court in Hayward, California, heard Ms Araujo had been born a boy named Edward but chose to live as a female.
She met the defendants, who knew her as Lida, in 2002 and they both had sexual encounters with her.
Suspicions about her gender ended in a confrontation in the early hours at Merel's home, the court heard.
A witness who was also at the house described how the victim was savagely beaten after her biological identity was revealed when her underwear was pulled aside.
An autopsy concluded she died of asphyxiation associated with head injuries.
A lawyer for Magidson said he would appeal against the verdict.
Manslaughter ruled out, Araujo juror says
'Events devolved into brutal beating and homicide'
- Henry K. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
The jury that convicted two men of second-degree murder in the killing of Newark transgender teenager Gwen Araujo flatly rejected defense arguments that it was a case of manslaughter, a San Francisco lawyer who served on the panel said Tuesday.
An average person would not have resorted to murder upon discovering that Araujo, 17, was biologically male, Max Stern, 38, of Piedmont, said in an interview with The Chronicle.
"The community standard is not and cannot be that killing is something a reasonable person would have done that night," Stern said.
Stern, a civil litigator, said the eight-man, four-woman jury concluded that Jose Merel and Michael Magidson, both 25, had murdered Araujo in October 2002, rejecting defense arguments that at most they were guilty of manslaughter committed in the heat of passion caused by Araujo's sexual deception. Both men had sex with Araujo before the night she was killed.
"This was not a manslaughter, because it is not reasonable to accept this behavior in response to the circumstances here," Stern said. "This is not confronting the molester of your children or someone who raped your spouse. These events devolved into a brutal beating and homicide."
The jury ultimately rejected hate crime enhancements against Merel and Magidson because some panelists believed that the defendants killed Araujo not necessarily because of her gender orientation but simply to "cover up a situation that had gotten out of control," Stern said.
Even if the defendants believed they had been sexually deceived, that would be "no basis, no justification for beating and murder," Stern said. "That's the heart of the verdict."
Merel and Magidson face sentences of 15 years to life in prison in the slaying, which occurred during a party at Merel's house that ended with the defendants burying Araujo in a shallow grave in the Sierra foothills.
The jury deliberated for a week at the Hayward Hall of Justice in the second trial in Araujo's slaying before revealing Monday that they were deadlocked 9-3 in favor of a second-degree murder conviction on a third defendant, Jason Cazares, 25.
Superior Court Judge Harry Sheppard declared a mistrial in Cazares' case. Prosecutors will announce at a Nov. 18 hearing whether they will retry Cazares.
The first trial ended in June 2004 with the jury deadlocked on charges against all three men after 10 days of deliberation.
Deliberations in the retrial began "in a very professional and cooperative way," Stern said, but he added that "there certainly were emotional times and some stark disagreement."
But Merel and Magidson's own testimony on the stand helped seal their fate, Stern said.
"Jose Merel admitted -- and this was corroborated -- that he was involved in striking her with a weapon," a skillet and a soup can, Stern said. "I believe that Magidson strangled the victim."
The jury was torn over Cazares because "there was no factual information that he committed any violence on the victim," Stern said.
Stern said he believed all the defendants had lied on the stand, "either by omission or commission." Some jurors also questioned whether the prosecution's key witness, Jaron Nabors, had been entirely forthright about his involvement in the slaying, Stern said.
Nabors, 22, who led police to Araujo's body, pleaded guilty in 2003 to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for testifying against his friends. He is expected to receive an 11-year prison sentence.
But if Nabors had not come forward, no one may have been prosecuted, Stern said.
E-mail Henry K. Lee at email@example.com.
Page B - 1
Posted on Wed, Sep. 14, 2005
Unfinished business in Araujo case
By L.A. Chung
San Jose Mercury News
Nearly three years after a 17-year-old was slowly and brutally murdered in Newark, justice, imperfectly, has been done.
It does not fully answer the outrage over the murder of Gwen Araujo, a transgender teen who fell in with an older crowd and ended up dead in a house full of so-called friends, at the hands of so-called friends. But justice, imperfectly, has been done.
I could not bear another hung jury, this second time around.
At least there are two second-degree murder convictions for a crime that was horrifying for both the deed itself and for what it said about the Bay Area. That young men can grow up here -- yes, here -- with so little sense of self and awareness of the world that they beat, kicked, choked and bludgeoned a younger acquaintance to death. That others in that same house could simply leave -- not offer succor to the victim -- when things got ugly.
Michael Magidson, 25, and Jose Merel, 25, face 15 years to life in prison. Jaron Nabors, their 22-year-old friend who testified for the prosecution, already received 11 years and a voluntary manslaughter conviction.
Jason Cazares, the man who witnesses testified left to get shovels to bury Gwen, will go free, by virtue of the jury deadlocking 9-3 on his culpability. Defense attorneys claimed Gwen's killing had been an act of passion triggered by the men's discovery they had been intimate with a person who was biologically male.
Just like the rest of us
One of the saddest moments of testimony came when Nabors described Gwen, fending off blows, pleading.
``No, please don't, I have a family.''
She was pummeled. Bloodied. Bludgeoned with a can from the larder. Hit with a frying pan. Strangled.
I have a family. I have a mother, a father, brothers and sisters. People who love me. I belong. To people.
Later, they would refer to her as ``it.''
In a puzzling part of the verdict, the jury didn't find the enhanced charge of a hate crime to be satisfied. Wasn't that the crux of the matter? Wasn't their rage and hate over Gwen's gender identity the whole reason she died?
``I agree, but we weren't there,'' said Karyn Sinunu, who wrote the book -- literally -- on hate crimes prosecution in California. I pressed on. If Gwen had been anatomically female, wouldn't it be safe to conclude that she wouldn't have been killed?
Sinunu, Santa Clara County's chief assistant district attorney, co-wrote ``Hate Crimes,'' now in its second edition for the California District Attorneys Association, as a legal guide to charging and prosecuting hate crimes.
``It always seems so straightforward at the front end of a prosecution and so much harder as you get into it,'' Sinunu said. ``It's not unusual for a jury to agonize over the actual motive.''
A question of justice
What now for defendant Jason Cazares?
Unless Alameda County prosecutors retry him or reach a deal, he will walk free. That would be wrong.
Wrong, among many things that were so wrong: That there were other people who simply left the house -- just left -- when the men start to beat and choke the teen. That they were there long enough to hear Cazares say, ``We're going to get shovels.''
Failing to prevent a murder is not a crime. But it is wrong.
I pray the next time a hate crime is prosecuted (even as I pray there is no next time), we will have a better basis of understanding:
That many souls are born different from what they will become. That they deserve to grow to adulthood, learning and changing, just like the rest of us.
That they have family.
Just like the rest of us. And then, perhaps, justice will be less imperfectly done.
Contact L.A. Chung at lchung@ mercurynews.com or call (408)920-5280