Sept 16, 2005
Volume 33
Issue 37

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Araujo trial secures two convictions; hung jury on third defendant
Araujo trial secures two convictions; hung jury on third defendant
Jury dismisses first-degree murder charges and hate crime enhancements

The second trial for the murder of a Transgendered teen, Gwen Araujo, concluded with two of the three defendants being convicted of second-degree murder. Unfortunately, the jury deadlocked 9-3 on the third defendant's conviction and was unable to render a verdict for Jason Cazares.

Deputy District Attorney Chris Lamiero tried all three defendants for first-degree murder with a hate crime enhancement, both of which the jury rejected. The jury did agree that both Michael Magidson and Jose Merel were guilty of second-degree murder. There was some measure of happiness and relief from the family and the Transgender community that two of the three were convicted, but it was "less than a full carriage of justice," according to Vanessa Edwards Foster, chair of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC).

The jury did reject the "Transgender panic" defense brought forth by Michael Magidson's lawyer, Michael Thorman. They also refused to believe that Jose Merel only "skipped" a heavy pan off of Gwen Araujo's head, causing no serious harm. However, they did buy into other diversionary testimony, such as their contention they feared for their lives due to Araujo allegedly threatening "retribution" from friends in a gang, which one family member termed "BS".

Araujo was born a boy named Edward but identified and lived as female. The defendants, who knew her as Lida, met her and invited her to a party in the summer of 2002. Attracted to the vivacious teen, Magidson and Merel had sexual experiences with her.

The issue boiled over in the early hours of Oct. 4, 2002, in a confrontation at Merel's house that fueled suspicions about Araujo's gender. After a six hour beating and strangulation, they buried her body in a shallow grave in a state park over 100 miles away.

The lack of hate crime enhancements disappointed many who followed the trial. "This was surprising to many, because it was the discovery of being Transgender that led to the killing that night," said local activist Shelly Prevost, who's filming a documentary on the Araujo murder and the trial.

Others were more pointed in their reaction to the hate crimes dismissal. "How blatantly does one have to despise someone, how much overkill must be meted out in a violent act before someone is convicted of a hate crime?" asked Foster of NTAC. "This again underscores the need for specific and explicit hate crimes protection language," she added. "We keep getting 'finessed' out of legislative language and 'dismissed' from obtaining convictions for bias-driven violence. This is beyond frustrating!"

"To hear the hate crime enhancement being rejected was a hate crime in itself," fumed Araujo's aunt, Imelda Guerrero. "It was a black-and-white, classic hate crime," she added, noting the family "really do not understand why the jury rejected it, but do feel that it was unjust!"

The hung jury on Jason Cazares' charges stunned many. "It was surreal, I still can't believe it. I feel numb," said Imelda Guerrero upon hearing the lack of verdict on Cazares. "I am furious but do not know what to do with it, or where to direct it. What makes me the most furious," Guerrero added, "is knowing that three jurors were not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Jason Cazares was guilty."

Foster of NTAC opined that the lack of conviction on Cazares was a "testament to Tony Serra's lawyering skills, not an exoneration based upon innocence. There is no way that Jason Cazares is an innocent party in all of this. Justice has not been served, and this family has to go through a third trial." Serra, the defense attorney for Cazares will not be able to represent his client for a third trial, having legal problems and incarceration of his own coming up at the end of the year.

However, even without the hate crimes and Cazares convictions there was optimism. "Nothing is going to bring Gwen back," said Araujo's mother Sylvia Guerrero in a press conference following the trial. "But this is at least a step toward closure."

"We have made some progress, we have two murder convictions," Imelda Guerrero said. "And that means that Gwen's life meant something! We have a lot of educating to do, and we will not let up!" She added that, "we are going to continue in our efforts to do whatever we can to try to make sure that this happens to no other trans person anywhere in this world.

"For the trans community, keep the faith, your lives will not go on unnoticed, and you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity."

A National Transgender Advocacy Coalition press release

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