- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2005

HAYWARD, Calif. (AP) - For the second time in less than a year, three men are going on trial in the death of Gwen Araujo, a 17-year-old one-time friend whom they later discovered was a male.

Last year, a jury deadlocked on whether Mr. Araujo was murdered, as prosecutors argued, or the victim of manslaughter, a crime the defense said was committed in a heat of passion sparked by sexual deception, during which Mr. Araujo posed as a woman.

The defense infuriated Mr. Araujo’s family and transsexual activists, who called it a case of blaming the victim.

Jury selection began yesterday for a second attempt by prosecutors to convince a jury that what happened to Mr. Araujo was a cold, calculated killing.

“Everybody’s asking questions, talking about it,” said Christopher Daley, director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, who expects the defense “to come out swinging a lot harder.”

Michael Magidson, 24; Jose Merel, 25; and Jason Cazares, 25, are charged with killing Mr. Araujo, who came to believe he was a woman. After he died, his mother had his birth name “Edward” legally changed to “Gwen” as a mark of respect.

According to a fourth man, Jaron Nabors, 22, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a plea bargain and agreed to testify against the others, Mr. Araujo was beaten and strangled after his sex was revealed during a confrontation at Mr. Merel’s house in a San Francisco suburb.

The four men had met Mr. Araujo, whom they knew as a woman named “Lida,” months earlier and became fast friends.

According to testimony from the defendants’ first trial, both Mr. Merel and Mr. Magidson had sex with Mr. Araujo and became suspicious that he was not a woman.

Their suspicions were confirmed on Oct. 4, 2002, when a young woman at the house grabbed his genitals, Mr. Nabors testified. Mr. Nabors said he saw Mr. Merel hit Mr. Araujo with a can and a skillet and Mr. Magidson punched, choked and kicked him.

Mr. Araujo begged for his life, saying, ?No, please don’t. I have a family,? Mr. Nabors said.

The attack dragged on for more than an hour, and Mr. Nabors said he left before the actual killing. He said Mr. Magidson later talked about twisting a rope around Mr. Araujo’s neck.

The next day, all four men took the body to the Sierra foothills, where it lay for nearly two weeks until Mr. Nabors led police to the grave.

At the first trial, defense attorneys hammered away at Mr. Nabors’ credibility, pointing out that he told different stories to police.

Mr. Magidson’s attorney, Michael Thorman, acknowledged that his client played a role in the attack and said he was sorry for it. But he argued that it was “classic manslaughter,” suggesting that the sudden discovery of Mr. Araujo’s sex was a violation “so deep, it’s almost primal.”

First-degree murder is punishable by 25 years to life, second-degree by 15 years to life and manslaughter by up to 11 years. The case was also charged as a hate crime, a potential extra four years.

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