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Mon Apr 19 2004Hung Jury in Gwen Araujo Murder Trial
Mon Apr 19 2004Gwen Araujo Trial Ends with No Verdict
8/10/2004: The retrial date for the criminal case against Jason Cazares, Michael Magidson and Jose Merel is set for May 9, 2005. Jason Cazares was set free on $1 million bail in early August.
7/01/04: The family of Gwen Araujo announced this week that Gwen's legal name had been officially changed to Gwen Amber Rose Araujo. Gwen's mother, Sylvia Guerrero, had requested this name change this year. Transgender rights activists hope that this will lead to the use of the correct name to refer to Gwen in the re-trial of three men who were accused of killing her.
6/22/04: After nine days of deliberations, the jury announced today that it was unable to come to a unanimous decision in the case of three men who are accused of murdering transgendered teenager Gwen Araujo. After questioning each of the jurors individually, the judge declared a mistrial on the basis that the jury was hopelessly deadlocked. Although this puts the proceedings on-hold, the case is far from over. The prosecutor has already announced that he will retry the case. This will involve empanelling a new jury for another complete trial, which will likely begin in several months.
Transgendered people and their allies have expressed fear that the inability of the jury to reach a verdict indicates that transpeople's safety and lives are not valued, even in the progressive SF Bay Area. However, interviews with jurors indicate that the principal split in the jury was not between guilt vs innocence, nor even manslaughter vs murder, but instead was whether the accused men should be found guilty either of first- vs second-degree murder. The split here hinges upon whether their actions were "willful, deliberate, and premeditated."
In California, a second-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory state prison term of 15-years-to-life, while a first-degree conviction raises the mandatory minimum penalty to 25-years-to-life.
An additional "hate-crime sentencing enhancement" [PC 422.75(c)] could add another four years to any prison term imposed. But crucially, for a first-degree murder conviction, the hate-crime element would effectively require "life without the possibility of parole, if the defendant intentionally killed the victim because of the victim's disability, gender, or sexual orientation or because of the defendant's perception of the victim's disability, gender, or sexual orientation." [PC 190.3(a)].
6/13/04: The world anxiously awaits the jury's verdict in the Gwen Araujo case. The jury has spent two weeks (aside from Fridays) deliberating. The only word from the jury in these two weeks has been a request to have the testimony of the pathologist read to them. The pathologist had concluded that Araujo had died of asphyxiation due to strangulation associated with blunt trauma to the head. Testimony ended in late May, and the closing arguments began on June 1st.
5/9/2004: In April, the trial of three young men (Michael Magidson, 23, and Jose Merel and Jason Cazares, both aged 24) who are accused of beating and strangling transgendered teenager Gwen Araujo (neé "Eddie," aka "Lida") to death began in Hayward. Another of the men involved in the October 3, 2002 murder, Jaron Nabors, aged 20, has received an 11-year manslaughter sentence in return for testifying against the other three. Nabors had also led law enforcement officials to the unmarked grave in which Gwen's body had been dumped. Normally progressive lawyer J. Tony Serra is representing Jason Cazares, who claims that he was not involved in the killing.
A fundamental question in this trial has been whether or not the killing was a hate crime. Defense attorneys unsuccessfully tried to use the young men's anger and sense of "betrayal" to justify the "rage" that led them to kill her, with hopes of lesser manslaughter convictions. However, Judge Harry Sheppard has refused to throw out a hate crime enhancement in this case. Michael Thorman, the lawyer for defendant Michael Magidson, had tried to argue that the men had killed Gwen because they were angry about her having hidden her biological sex from her partners, rather than because they generally hated transgendered people. Gloria Allred, the attorney who is representing Gwen's family, has said that any attempt to use rage to justify killing Gwen is an insult to the family.
The prosecution rested this past week and the defense started its arguments on Tuesday, May 5th. The defense successfully got Nabors to admit he had previously lied to police, and implied that he was trying to shift blame for the killing from himself to Magidson, Merel and Cazares.
On Monday, April 19th, Nicole Brown, the young woman who reached under Araujo's clothes to determine her biological sex, was expected to testify. However, she broke down in tears and said that she was unable to testify that day. A police detective who had accompanied Jaron Nabors to the scene where the young men had buried Gwen's body did take the stand on that day.
Much media coverage of the case focuses on the young men's sense of "betrayal," because Araujo had not told her murderers that she was not anatomically female, and the men, two of whom had had sexual relations with her, all identified as heterosexual. The media also is covering the right-wing christian group that has planned to protest homosexuality at the trial.
Past Indybay coverage of Gwen's story. | More coverage of the trial | Enemy Combatant Radio Headlines
Gay-Straight Alliance Network says more tolerance of transgenders needs to be taught in schools. | Not in Our Town
The Gwen Araujo Memorial Fund has raised nearly $10,000 to fund school programs that increase understanding of transgender people and issues. | TransYouth Network
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