Araujo murder case goes to jury
June 04 2004 12:00 AM ET
A defense attorney for one of three men charged with killing a transgendered teen says his client is sorry for the death but that it was manslaughter committed in the heat of passion, not murder as prosecutors allege. "Don't buy the suggestion that it's not holding somebody accountable if they're found guilty of voluntary manslaughter," attorney Michael Thorman said in his closing argument Wednesday. Thorman represents Michael Magidson, who along with Jose Merel and Jason Cazares, is charged with killing Gwen Araujo. The 17-year-old Araujo was beaten and strangled in October 2002 after her biological gender was revealed during a late-night confrontation at Merel's house in Newark, a San Francisco suburb. Merel and Magidson had had sexual encounters with Araujo, and Thorman said the sudden discovery that she was biologically male was a sexual violation of the type "so deep, it's almost primal." For young men--all of the defendants are 24--sexual choices are a substantial part of their identity, he said. "That's why the deception in this case for Michael Magidson, for Jose Merel was such a substantial provocation."
Araujo's family and transgender advocates deplore that defense, saying it is blaming the victim and irrelevant to the question of murder. They say Araujo, who was known to most people as Gwen, was not trying to deceive her friends, just presenting her true self. Thorman said he wasn't blaming Araujo. In a dramatic moment he turned to Araujo's family and said, "There's nothing Eddie did, there's nothing that Gwen did, that caused him to deserve to die. Nothing. It was wrong." Thorman was the last defense attorney to argue his case, which is expected to go to jurors Thursday.
Prosecutor Chris Lamiero is asking the jury to convict all three of first-degree murder, saying Araujo was executed in cold blood. Merel's attorney did not say whether his client accepts responsibility in the
attack. But he said it is obvious Merel, who was said to have been crying and saying, "I'm not gay," after the revelation, was acting in the heat of passion. Cazares's attorney said his client is innocent and only helped bury the body out of loyalty to his friends. If they decide to convict, jurors could return verdicts of manslaughter, which comes with a maximum sentence of 11 years, compared with 25 years to life for first-degree murder or 15 years to life for second-degree murder, their other options. But Lamiero said this case is not manslaughter, noting that the case was charged as a hate crime, which could add a possible four years to a sentence.