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Prosecution's key witness testifies in Araujo murder trial

Prosecution's key witness testifies in Araujo murder trial

The prosecution's key witness in the trial of three men accused of killing a transgender teenager took the stand Monday, describing how the group met the attractive, flirtatious 17-year-old. The defendants--Michael Magidson, Jason Cazares, and Jose Merel, all 25--face first-degree murder charges in the death of Gwen Araujo. Prosecutors say Araujo, who was born a boy but grew up to believe her true identity was as a woman, was beaten and strangled after her biological identity was revealed during a confrontation in October 2002. The showdown was prompted, according to prosecutors, by suspicions that arose after Merel and Magidson compared notes about their sexual encounters with Araujo. A previous trial last year ended in a hung jury after a defense attorney argued the case was not murder but manslaughter, a crime of passion provoked by sexual deceit. That defense angered Araujo's family and transgender activists. The prosecution's main witness, Jaron Nabors, 22, was also at the house that night and initially was charged with murder. But he was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter in a deal with prosecutors. Nabors began his testimony Monday by talking about how he and the other three men met Araujo in late summer 2002. That first night, Nabors said, it crossed his mind that Araujo was not female, although he said he quickly dismissed the idea as far-fetched. "In hindsight, it was a moment of clarity," he said. Araujo and the four men began to hang out together at Merel's house in Newark, a San Francisco suburb, drinking, smoking pot, and playing dominos, a favorite pastime of the men, Nabors said. Defense attorneys mounted scathing attacks on Nabors's credibility in their opening statements last week. They noted that Nabors gave different stories to police when he was first contacted and described him as a manipulative liar. Lawyers for the three defendants took divergent strategies in their openings. Merel's lawyer said his client genuinely cared for Araujo and did not do her any serious injury. Cazares's lawyer said his client was outside when the killing took place and helped only to bury the body out of loyalty to his friends. Magidson's lawyer repeated his defense from the first trial, that his client was involved in the attack and regretted it but that it was not premeditated. (AP)

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