HAYWARD, Calif. – Two men who had sex with a transgender (search) teen were convicted of murdering her after they discovered she was biologically male, but a third defendant's case ended in a mistrial.
In their verdict Monday, the jury rejected defense arguments that the killing of 17-year-old Gwen Araujo amounted to no more than manslaughter (search).
"It's murder," said Gwen Smith, who maintains a Web site memorializing people believed to have been killed because they were transgender. "And a murder conviction shows that transgender lives are valuable."
Michael Magidson and Jose Merel, both 25, face mandatory sentences of 15 years-to-life in prison for second-degree murder in the killing of Araujo, who was beaten, tied up and strangled. They were cleared of hate crime charges.
The jury deadlocked on Jason Cazares, also 25, marking the second time a mistrial was declared in his case.
Outside the Alameda County courtroom, Araujo's mother, Sylvia Guerrero, said she was satisfied by the verdicts.
"Nothing is going to bring Gwen back. I know that." Guerrero said. "But this is at least a step toward closure."
Araujo was born a boy named Edward but grew up to believe her true identity was female. The defendants, who knew her as Lida, met Araujo in the summer of 2002. Magidson and Merel had sexual encounters with her, experiences that fueled suspicions about Araujo's gender.
The issue boiled over in the early hours of Oct. 4, 2002, in a confrontation at Merel's house in the San Francisco suburb of Newark.
Magidson's attorney, Michael Thorman, said his client would appeal, and Merel's lawyer, William Du Bois, said he was shocked by the verdict.
"I can't imagine what evidence they used to come to this decision," Du Bois said.
In the first trial, the three defendants stuck together, with their lawyers attacking the chief prosecution witness, Jaron Nabors, who was also at the house the night Araujo died but was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter.
But in the second trial, the defendants' united front cracked, with Merel implicating Magidson.
Nabors testified at both trials that Araujo was savagely attacked after her biological identity was revealed when her underwear was pulled aside. He said he didn't see the killing but saw Magidson pull a rope toward the teen's neck.
Magidson testified that he beat and tied up Araujo, adding that while he couldn't remember large parts of the night he was sure he had not strangled her. He said Nabors was the killer, and his attorney asked for a manslaughter conviction.
But Merel, testifying for the first time, broke down and cried when prosecutor Chris Lamiero asked him directly if Magidson had admitted strangling Araujo. He testified that Magidson had told him "if push came to shove" Merel should identify Magidson as the killer.
Cazares said he was outside the house when the killing took place and only helped bury the body in a shallow grave in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Cazares' attorney said he thought the jury didn't believe Nabors' testimony.
"We believe from the first instant that he wasn't telling the truth and what he was doing was trying to save his own skin," attorney Tony Serra said.
Cazares, who was free on bail, hugged his girlfriend and left the courthouse