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Nearly three years ago Gwen Araujo was beaten and strangled after her companions discovered that the fetching 17-year-old was biologically male. Closing arguments in the prosecution's second attempt to win murder convictions in the case were set for Wednesday afternoon. Three 25-year-olds--Michael Magidson, Jose Merel, and Jason Cazares--face first-degree murder charges. A fourth man, Jaron Nabors, 22, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for testifying against his friends.
The case has been closely watched by transgender Americans, who were disappointed last year when the first trial ended with a deadlocked jury. Magidson's attorney had argued the case was no more than manslaughter, a crime committed in passion sparked by sexual deception, a defense that activists and Araujo's family called blaming the victim.
Araujo was born a boy named Edward but grew up to believe her true identity was as a woman. The defendants, who knew Araujo as Lida, met her in late summer 2002 and soon became friends. Flirty and fun, the teenager started hanging out at Merel's house in the San Francisco suburb of Newark where they drank, smoked marijuana, and played dominoes. Magidson and Merel had sexual encounters with Araujo, and, according to Merel, so did Nabors, although Nabors denies it.
Suspicions about Araujo's gender began to grow after Magidson and Merel compared notes, leading to a confrontation in the early morning hours of October 4, 2002. The debate was settled when Araujo's underwear was roughly pulled aside. Chaos ensued. Nabors said Araujo was choked, kicked, and punched. He said he saw Merel smash Araujo in the head with a can and also hit her with a frying pan. Eventually, Araujo was knocked unconscious, tied up, and carried out to the garage, where Nabors said he saw Magidson start to pull an end of rope toward Araujo's neck.
Cazares, who like Nabors testified at both trials, denied taking part in the attack. He said he was outside when Araujo was killed but felt obliged to help his friends bury the body. Merel, who said he vomited and wept when he learned Araujo was biologically male, acknowledged slapping Araujo and hitting her once with a pan. But he said he only tried to scare her and never intended for her to be killed.
At the first trial the defendants worked together, focusing on trying to undermine Nabors's credibility. But unity faltered in the second trial with Merel and Magidson testifying for the first time--and telling different stories. Magidson said he didn't remember much of what happened that night, but he was sure he did not kill the teenager. He identified Nabors as the strangler. After he was arrested Magidson confessed to police he strangled Araujo, but he testified that he did that only because he wanted to protect his friends. He said he changed his mind after sitting in jail. (AP)