Two men convicted
of killing a transgender teenager after discovering the
pretty girl they'd had sex with was biologically male were
sentenced Friday to prison following an emotion-filled
Michael Magidson, 25, and Jose Merel, 26, were
sentenced to the mandatory terms of 15 years to
life for second-degree murder. A third man, Jason
Cazares, 26, who pleaded no contest to manslaughter in a
plea bargain, was sentenced to six years.
The men were accused of killing 17-year-old Gwen
Araujo, who was born a boy named Edward but felt her
true identity was as a woman. The defendants met
Araujo in the summer of 2002, and Magidson and Merel had
sexual encounters with her. The two grew suspicious that
Araujo was not a woman after comparing notes.
In October 2002, Araujo's biological identity
was revealed in a confrontation at Merel's house in
Newark, Calif., a San Francisco suburb. Chaos ensued
as the teenager, 5-feet-7 and about 100 pounds, was beaten,
tied up, and strangled. A jury convicted Magidson and Merel
of second-degree murder in September. Cazares reached
his plea bargain after two juries deadlocked on his fate.
Before the sentences were handed out Friday,
Araujo's relatives addressed the court, wiping away
tears as they talked about their loss. "Gwen deserved
the right to live her life," her mother, Sylvia Guerrero,
told the defendants.
Four men were charged in the case, the three
defendants and 22-year-old Jaron Nabors, who pleaded
guilty to manslaughter early in the case and testified
for the prosecution. He was expected to be sentenced later
to 11 years in prison. At trial, Cazares said he was
outside when the killing took place and helped only to
bury the body. Magidson acknowledged hitting and tying
up Araujo but said he didn't kill her. His attorney
asked for a manslaughter verdict, saying the killing was not
murder but a crime of passion provoked by deception, a
defense that infuriated Araujo's family and many
Merel said he vomited and wept when he
discovered Araujo's biological identity, slapping her
and hitting her with a glancing blow with a pan. But
his attorney said that was the extent of Merel's involvement.
In her remarks, Guerrero touched on Nabors and
Merel, who provided much of the information about what
happened that night and identified Magidson as the
ringleader. Nabors was not in the courtroom, but Merel cried
freely as Guerrero called the testimony brave.
Merel spoke briefly, telling Araujo's family
that "from the bottom of my heart I am truly and
sincerely sorry." Magidson also spoke, saying the case
was "based entirely on lies." He read a letter he said
had been sent to him by a stranger that took shots at
Magidson's codefendants and the prosecutor and
essentially blamed Araujo for what happened.
Magidson's remarks drew a rebuke from the judge.
"I don't find that you're remorseful at all," Alameda
County superior court judge Harry Sheppard said.
"You're blaming codefendants, you're blaming the
district attorney for events that you participated in."
Magidson and Merel were already in custody.
Cazares, who is out on $1 million bail, was allowed to
delay the start of his prison sentence until March 30
so he can be present for the birth of his child. (AP)