Araujo family upset by defense's "crime of passion" claim

The family of slain transgendered teen Gwen Araujo took issue with a defense attorney's claim that the killing had been a crime of passion ignited by deception. Gloria Allred, attorney for the family of Araujo, called that blaming the victim and said Araujo was living honestly as the woman she believed herself to be. "The real betrayal was by the defendants," said Allred. Araujo was beaten and strangled to death after her biological identity was revealed in a confrontation at a party in Newark, Calif., in October 2002. Three men are on trial for murder in the case: Michael Magidson, 23, and Jose Merel and Jason Cazares, both 24. Magidson and Merel had both had sex with Araujo after meeting her in the summer of 2002, according to earlier testimony. Prosecutor Chris Lamiero has described all three as cold-blooded executioners who decided Araujo deserved to die.

But in his opening statement on Thursday, Michael Thorman, the attorney representing Magidson, described his client as a mild-mannered man swept away by explosive emotions after discovering he had unwittingly had sex with a man. Magidson was "upset beyond reason," said Thorman. Outside the courtroom Allred said it's not clear what Magidson thought about Araujo's gender but "whatever he believed, he had no right to inflict such a terrible act of violence against her. Any attempt to rationalize it or to justify it is really an insult to Gwen and her family." But Thorman, also interviewed outside court, said that although Araujo had the right to embrace what she believed to be her true gender, it was deceitful of her to let Magidson think he was having sex with a woman.

The attorney for Merel has not made an opening statement yet, but Tony Serra, representing Cazares, spoke to jurors Wednesday. Serra said outside court on Thursday that although he agrees the case was a crime of passion, that is not his client's defense. He maintains that Cazares did not strike Araujo and instead tried to protect her during the confrontation. Serra says Cazares helped bury the body in a remote area near Lake Tahoe but says that was out of loyalty to his friends. Serra said he expects his case to hinge on the credibility of Jaron Nabors, 20, who was initially charged with murder but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and agreed to testify against his friends. Nabors testified in the preliminary hearing last year that Cazares didn't deny hitting Araujo with a shovel to make sure she was dead after she was strangled. Serra says that's not true. "We believe [Nabors] has no credibility," Serra said. "He's the one that was paid dearly for his testimony." The case is expected to resume on Monday with testimony from Nicole Brown, who was at the house the night of the confrontation and made the discovery that the girl they knew as "Lida" was biologically male.

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