One of three men charged with killing a transgendered teen gave jurors Wednesday his version of what happened that night, contradicting some of the testimony of the prosecution's key witness.
Earlier, Jaron Nabors testified for the prosecution that Gwen Araujo had been viciously beaten and strangled after her biological identity was revealed in an explosive confrontation in October 2002. But defendant Jason Cazares gave a somewhat different account, appearing to try to shift some blame to Nabors. Along with Cazares, 24, two other men are charged in Araujo's death: Michael Magidson, 23, and Jose Merel, 24.
Magidson and Merel had sexual encounters with Araujo, according to earlier testimony, and Magidson's attorney has called Araujo's death "classic manslaughter," saying his client was driven beyond reason by the discovery he unwittingly had had sex with a man. However, Cazares did not have sex with Araujo, according to the other witnesses. His attorney says Cazares did not take part in the assault and only agreed to help bury the body out of loyalty.
The men had become friends with Araujo over the summer, but growing suspicions about her sex erupted into conflict in a late-night confrontation at Merel's house in the San Francisco suburb of Newark, Nabors testified.
After another woman at the house settled the debate by grabbing Araujo's genitals, Nabors had said he saw Merel strike Araujo with a can and a frying pan. Nabors also had said he later saw Magidson and Cazares carry Araujo's bound body into the garage and that he saw Magidson pull a rope toward Araujo's head. The four later buried Araujo's body in a remote area near Lake Tahoe, 150 miles east of Newark, and Nabors said during the drive that Magidson talked about twisting the rope and that Cazares acknowledged hitting Araujo with a shovel.
The 21-year-old Nabors, who initially was charged in the murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter and agreed to testify, told jurors that he did not have sexual contact with the teenager and did not beat her. However, Nabors said he did stop Araujo from leaving the house the night she was killed. But Cazares, testifying Tuesday and Wednesday, said Nabors had talked about having sex with Araujo. Cazares also described the confrontation as much more low-key and said he believed until well into the night that Araujo was a woman.
Cazares said he saw Nabors as well as Magidson and Merel fighting with Araujo that night. He said he intervened three times on Araujo's behalf, believing she was a woman, but at one point, Magidson told him that Araujo was a man, Cazares said.
Cazares said he went outside the house. When he returned, he said, he saw Magidson and Merel in the house and then saw Nabors coming from the garage looking "like he [had] seen a ghost," and saying, "She's dead. She's dead."
In cross-examination, prosecutor Chris Lamiero challenged Cazares, noting that other witnesses said Cazares had been part of conversations before the night of Araujo's death in which the men discussed their suspicions about the teenager's sex. Lamiero also questioned Cazares's motives in testifying, saying the defendant had decided to take the stand to "try and save yourself and screw your buddies at the same time."
"No," Cazares responded.
"Because that's what you've done," said Lamiero. "You realize that, don't you?"