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Related Categories: California | Fault Lines
Fault Lines Issue 2: Hung Jury in Araujo Murder Trial
by Karen Mahtin and Matt Fitt
Sunday Jul 18th, 2004 10:40 AM
On June 22, after nine days of deliberations, Judge Harry Shepard declared a mistrial in the case of three men accused of murdering Gwen Araujo, a transgendered teen from Newark, CA, because the jury failed to reach a unanimous decision. Community outrage over the hung jury resulted in a march for “tranny” rights through the streets of San Francisco on June 26, marking the beginning of a series of rallies to celebrate Pride Week.
Hung Trial in Araujo Murder Trial
Transgender community fights for recognition, education
By Karen Mahtin and Matt Fitt

On June 22, after nine days of deliberations, Judge Harry Shepard declared a mistrial in the case of three men accused of murdering Gwen Araujo, a transgendered teen from Newark, CA, because the jury failed to reach a unanimous decision. Community outrage over the hung jury resulted in a march for “tranny” rights through the streets of San Francisco on June 26, marking the beginning of a series of rallies to celebrate Pride Week.

Michael Magidson, 23, Jose Merel and Jason Cazares, both 24, will face a retrial scheduled to begin July 30 in Hayward, CA. Jaron Nabors, 20, has received an 11-year manslaughter sentence in return for testifying against the other three. Nabors led law enforcement officials to the unmarked grave in the Sierra foothills in which Gwen's body had been dumped in October, 2002.

The issue that the jury disagreed on was not guilt, but whether the accused men should be found guilty of either first or second degree murder. The split hinges upon whether the men's actions were "willful, deliberate, and premeditated." Michael Thorman, Magidson's attorney, argued that the beating and strangulation had been a crime of rage triggered by the revelation of Arauju’s biological gender, which was revealed when another friend, Nicole Brown, reached up Arauju’s skirt at a house party. The defense claimed that the murder was not a hate crime perpetrated because of a prejudice against non-heterosexuals, but the result of a shocking betrayal by the victim, who had been sexually involved with two of the heterosexual defendants. Gloria Allred, the Araujo Family’s attorney, characterized this stance as “an insult to the family.”

Because Judge Shepard refused to throw out the hate crime sentencing enhancement, a first-degree murder conviction would 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."

As a transexual, Gwen (formerly Eddie) was living what she believed to be her true gender- female. The similarities between Araujo’s murder and those of transman Brandon Teena and gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard brought violence against the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) community back into the spotlight, especially in the progressive Bay Area. Many of the LGBT activists who participated in the Tranny March were upset that the hung jury decision signaled a reluctance to take hate crimes seriously.

However, several LGBT rights organizations, such as Gay-Straight Alliance Network, used the case to promote education of these issues. $20,000 was raised through The Gwen Araujo Memorial Fund to finance school programs.