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Prosecution's lead witness challenged in Araujo murder trial

Prosecution's lead witness challenged in Araujo murder trial

A defense attorney for one of the three men accused of killing a transgendered teen attacked the credibility of the prosecution's main witness, calling him a ruthless liar. "You're a cold, calculating, self-centered person, selfish to the core. Isn't that a fact?" attorney Tony Serra said Tuesday as he cross-examined Jaron Nabors. Serra represents 24-year-old Jason Cazares, who, along with Michael Magidson, 23, and Jose Merel, 24, is charged with killing Gwen Araujo after discovering that she was biologically male during a confrontation in Newark, Calif., on October 3, 2002. Nabors, 21, initially was charged with murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter and has been promised an 11-year sentence for his testimony. In direct testimony, Nabors gave a chillingly detailed version of how the 17-year-old Araujo was killed. Nabors, who says he was present during much of the assault, said Araujo was choked, beaten, and hit on the head with a can and a frying pan. She was tied up, and he saw one of the defendants start to pull a rope toward her neck. Afterward Nabors helped bury the body. The attack, according to Nabors, was remorseless. Araujo was bleeding; she was ordered off a couch to keep it clean. Later she was carried into the garage because blood was getting on the carpet, he said. Before helping to bury the body, Nabors said he changed into an old shirt so he wouldn't get his good one dirty. On the way back from the burial, the men were hungry, so they stopped at McDonald's for breakfast. Defense attorneys say Nabors is minimizing his role and embellishing the others'. "You were in it up to your neck," Serra said. The attorney challenged Nabors on why he changed his shirt before burying the body, saying the real reason was the shirt was covered in blood. "That shirt is hanging in my closet as clean as a whistle," Nabors responded. Serra also brought up Nabors's failure to mention Cazares in his initial statements to police. The lawyer accused Nabors of deciding to falsely implicate Cazares in the killing to give prosecutors "fresh blood." "You substituted my client for yourself, didn't you?" said Serra. "What you say my client did, you did. Isn't that true?" "No," said Nabors. Nabors admitted he had lied in the past but said "when I'm obligated to tell the truth, I tell the truth." Serra questioned whether Nabors's past deception undermines his current credibility. "My responsibility is to answer your questions truthfully. As far as my credibility, that's up to the jury," Nabors replied. In describing the attack on Araujo, Nabors said Merel wielded the can and skillet and said Magidson choked, punched, and kneed the teenager. He said Cazares kicked Araujo after she was down. Nabors also acknowledged his own culpability, saying he believes he would be convicted of murder in Araujo's death if tried on that charge. After Araujo had been tied up and taken to the garage, Nabors said he saw Magidson pulling a loose end of rope toward Araujo's neck. He said he left the garage to go into the house and returned to find Magidson and Cazares carrying Araujo's body out to a pickup truck. The four drove about 150 miles east to a remote area near Lake Tahoe, where they buried Araujo, Nabors said. At some point on the drive, Nabors said Magidson talked about having twisted the rope. According to Nabors, Magidson said he hadn't been sure Araujo was dead until Cazares hit her over the head with a shovel. Serra denies that Cazares struck Araujo. In his cross-examination, he contrasted Nabors's courtroom demeanor--clean-cut, expansive vocabulary--with profanity-filled conversations he had elsewhere. Serra asked Nabors why at one point he referred to Merel and Magidson, both of whom had sexual encounters with Araujo, as having been raped. "I felt they were raped," Nabors testified. "He [Araujo] did not come clean with being what he really was. I felt that he forced them into homosexual sex." "She forced them?" said Serra, noting that Araujo weighed about 100 pounds. "By deception," Nabors said.

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