Defense in Araujo trial wraps with "panic" theory

BY admin

May 25 2004 11:00 PM ET

The case of three men charged with killing transgendered teenager Gwen Araujo could go to a jury next week. "I am glad that it's going to be over," Araujo's uncle, David Guerrero, said as testimony neared an end Monday. "We need to do some rebuilding." Defense attorney Michael Thorman, who was expected to conclude his case Tuesday, called a psychologist as one of his key witnesses to expand on his theory that panic led to Araujo's killing. Andrew Pojman, an expert on group dynamics, said it's likely a dangerous brew of anger and shame, intensified by alcohol and drugs, boiled over the night the 17-year-old Araujo was revealed to be biologically male. Michael Magidson, 23, and Jose Merel and Jason Cazares, both 24, are accused of killing Araujo.

Prosecutors, who charged the case as a hate crime, say all three were involved in killing Araujo, who was beaten and strangled at Merel's house in Newark, a San Francisco suburb, after a confrontation in October 2002. Magidson and Merel had both had sexual encounters with Araujo, according to the testimony of a fourth man, Jaron Nabors, 21, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and agreed to testify against the others. Cazares's attorney says his client never struck Araujo and helped to bury the victim's body only out of loyalty to his friends. But Thorman, who represents Magidson, has presented a different defense, calling the killing "classic manslaughter," saying Magidson was driven beyond reason by the discovery that he had unwittingly had sex with a man. Merel's attorney has said his client was overcome by emotion and also maintains that Merel did not take part in the strangulation. Closing arguments are scheduled to begin June 1.

On Monday Thorman called Pojman, who commented hypothetically on the likely reaction to the revelation of Araujo's biological gender. People with the kind of maturity the defendants had would "go into a panic," Pojman said. "It would flip them out." According to earlier testimony, Araujo's killing unfolded slowly as she was choked, beaten, tied up, and strangled. Pojman said being part of a group would extend the panicked reaction. "They keep kind of spurring each other on," he testified.

Outside the courtroom, Araujo's family has called the crime-of-passion defense a case of blaming the victim. They say Araujo did not attempt to deceive anyone but was living as the person she believed herself to be. "They didn't respect her. They still don't," Guerrero said.

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