Trial ordered in Araujo murder

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com March 20 2003 1:00 AM ET

Three men will stand trial for the slaying of a Newark, Calif., transgendered teen after a judge rejected arguments that the killing, which witnesses said unfolded over a period of about two hours, was a crime of passion. Alameda County judge Kenneth Mark Burr ruled Tuesday that there is probable cause to believe that the three defendants--Jason Michael Cazares, 22; Jose Antonio Merel, 23; and Michael William Magidson, 22--committed a hate crime in the murder of Eddie "Gwen" Araujo.

Araujo, who was born a man but lived as a woman, was killed in the early hours of October 4 after her biological identity was publicly revealed at a house party. Defense attorneys claimed that the men were swept away by emotion after discovering that the woman they knew as Lida was biologically male. Two of them had had sex with Araujo, according to testimony in the preliminary hearing. "It all goes back to deception," said attorney Tony Serra. "But for the eruption of this identity issue, which started like a flame that quickly swelled into an uncontrollable human fire, there would have never been any homicide." But prosecutor Connie Campbell said the three defendants killed slowly and in cold blood. "They took their own perverted view of justice, weighed the facts, put it on a scale, and determined that their egos were worth more than Lida's life," she said.

Burr found that while there was evidence suggesting that heat of passion was involved, there was also evidence of sufficient time for that passion to recede. He said the killing should be deemed a hate crime because the motivation was "inextricably caught up with the gender of the victim."

Araujo's supporters shouted for joy as Burr revoked bail for Magidson, the only defendant who had been let out of jail. Outside the courthouse, Araujo's uncle, David Guerrero, drew more cheers as he declared, "Tonight we're going to celebrate for Gwen."

Much of the testimony in the preliminary hearing came from 19-year-old Jaron Chase Nabors, who had been charged with murder along with the other three but struck a deal to plead guilty to manslaughter in return for testifying against his friends. According to Nabors, the four met Araujo last summer, and Magidson and Merel later had sex with her. After comparing stories, they began to suspect she was biologically male, and they confronted her at the party, Nabors said. Violence broke out, witnesses said, after another woman who was at the house grabbed between Araujo's legs and yelled, "It's a...man!" Nabors said Magidson put Araujo in a choke hold and that Merel began crying, "I can't be gay. I can't be gay." Araujo begged for mercy, saying, "No, please don't. I have a family," but was ignored, Nabors said. He said Merel struck Araujo in the head with a can and a skillet and that Magidson punched her and kneed her viciously in the head.

According to Nabors, he and Cazares went to fetch shovels, and they returned to find Araujo sitting on a couch, her face covered in blood. Nabors said he saw Magidson tie up Araujo. He said he saw Magidson pulling a rope toward her neck and later heard Magidson describe how he twisted it tight. Nabors said Cazares intervened on Araujo's behalf three times. Nabors also testified, however, that Cazares acknowledged hitting Araujo in the head with a shovel to make sure no life was left in her body, which at that point lay bound and wrapped in a blanket in the back of a truck. Nabors said he did not attack Araujo but admitted he prevented her from leaving the house.

Defense attorneys took different approaches in their argument, with Serra arguing that Cazares was no more than an accessory after the fact. Merel's lawyer, John Noonan, said the evidence didn't indicate his client was involved in the actual killing. Michael Thorman, Magidson's attorney, said his client should not be tried for anything more than manslaughter because he was pushed beyond reason by the discovery that he unwittingly had had sex with a man.

Araujo's mother, Sylvia Guerrero, who sobbed quietly as Campbell described the grim details of her child's death, smiled after the judge turned down those arguments. "The angels are dancing in heaven," she said, "and mom's very happy."