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by The National Transgender Advocacy Coalition *
Thursday, Apr. 01, 2004 at 4:10 AM
Attorneys for defendants in Northern California trial for 2002 murder of Transgender woman plans a "blame the victim" defense.
Araujo Murder Trial Scheduled to Begin March 29
On October 3, 2002, 17-year-old Gwen Araujo was slowly and brutally murdered at a party after young men with whom she had previously had sex discovered that she was anatomically male. After finishing their "Tony Soprano-type" hit, they drove the teen's body to a site over 150 miles away and buried her in a shallow grave.
The nation's transgender community, riveted by the brutality of the case, is looking forward to final justice in a trial where defense attorneys will attempt to affix blame to the victim. The trial for Araujo's murder, currently in the jury selection phase, is slated to begin March 29 in Oakland, CA.
Jason Cazares, 24, Michael Magidson, 23, and Jose Merel, 24, are each charged with murder with a hate-crime enhancement in the slaying of the Newark, CA teenager, Gwen (born Eddie) Araujo. California is one of seven states nationwide that has hate crime enhancements that cover "gender identity" or expression - the transgendered.
An additional suspect, Jaron Nabors, 21, entered a plea bargain earlier to voluntary manslaughter and will testify on behalf of the state against Magidson, Merel and Cazares.
The men had speculated about the true gender of Araujo, an attractive girl from the neighborhood that they knew as "Lida." According to Nabors' testimony, at one point the accused sat around Merel's kitchen table and discussed a "Tony Soprano-type" murder and a plot to "get rid of her body" if their suspicions of her anatomical maleness were confirmed.
"Fear and hatred of 'gayness' drove these men to plan, and carry out a stunningly heartless murder," said Vanessa Edwards Foster, chair of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC). The murderers "were attracted to a beautiful female," she added, and "couldn't live with others knowing of their affection towards a girl who was not born female."
Meanwhile, defense attorneys are telegraphing strategy to turn the trial around by affixing blame to Araujo for her murder. In his line of questioning, Michael Thorman, attorney for defendant Michael Magidson, suggested that he might ask a jury to decide whether the killing was not a first-degree murder but instead a manslaughter - a killing committed during a heat of passion.
"It all goes back to deception, and reaction to deception," argued Tony Serra, attorney for defendant Jason Cazares.
"That's like saying any woman who was deceived by some guy with promises of love or marriage, and who is later dumped, can plan and carry out the man's execution and plead innocence due to being deceived," said Foster of NTAC. "That logic is specious and weak."
Foster admitted that this type of defense, blaming the victim for her different gender situation, was not surprising. But she added that it "shouldn't factor into the conviction or sentencing if justice is properly carried out. If it draws a first-degree murder conviction in any other situation, then it should draw a first-degree murder conviction in this case, regardless of Gwen's transgender status."
According to reports, seventeen year-old Araujo was invited to the loose party at the Merel home, setting the stage for the fateful event. After repeated questioning by the party-goers, Araujo was discovered to be biologically male and was reportedly set upon by Magidson and Jose Merel. The men beat, kicked, and bludgeoned the teen with a can of soup and a frying pan.
Cazares then told Nabors to go with him to his house to retrieve shovels. Once they returned, Magidson strangled Araujo, hogtied her and wrapped her in a blanket, and Cazares finished by twice smashing the teen in the head with a shovel. They then drove in the early morning hours to a remote spot near Placerville, CA, and buried Gwen in a shallow grave. Nabors eventually led police to Araujo's body.
Serra, the attorney for Jason Cazares, has argued that his client did not participate in the killing, a statement contradicted by preliminary hearing testimony that his client struck the victim in the head twice with a shovel in the garage of Merel's home in Newark.
"The bottom line here is that these men despised Gwen Araujo for who she was and how her being transgendered affected them," said NTAC chair, Foster. "They conspired to kill her, discussed where to bury her, effectively carried out the plan, and no one did a thing to stop it."
NTAC, as well as transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay citizens nationwide, avidly look forward to a full and proper conviction, and stiff sentencing of all parties involved.
"This was a cold, premeditated murder," Foster added, "irrespective of whether the victim is straight or transsexual."
**Founded in 1999, NTAC - the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition - is a §501(c)(4) civil rights organization working to establish and maintain the right of all transgendered, intersexed, and gender-variant people to live and work without fear of violence or discrimination.
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