No Verdict in Transgender Slaying
HAYWARD, Calif. – Gasps of dismay sounded in a courtroom as the trial of three men charged with killing a transgender (search) teenager ended Tuesday with the jury declaring they were deadlocked.
Prosecutor Chris Lamiero said he would seek to retry the case, although that is not expected to happen for some months.
Jurors, who had been deliberating for about nine days, said according to their latest ballot they were stuck 10-2 in favor of acquitting Jose Merel and Jason Cazares on first-degree murder charges and 7-5 in favor of convicting Michael Magidson.
The three, all 24, were charged with killing a teenager known to most of her friends as Gwen but born Edward Araujo (search). Merel and Magidson had sexual encounters with Araujo in the months before her death and, according to prosecutors, the killing occurred after a showdown in which Araujo's biological gender was revealed.
Had they decided to convict, the panel of eight men and four women also had the option of returning verdicts of second-degree murder or manslaughter, but only if they agreed on the first-degree charge. First-degree murder is punishable by 25 years to life, second-degree by 15-to-life and manslaughter by up to 11 years.
The case also had been charged as a hate crime (search), which could have added four years.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Harry Sheppard declared a mistrial after the jury foreman told him the panel was "unable to pass beyond the point of reasonable doubt," and all but one juror said further deliberations would not help.
Araujo's sister left the courtroom in tears as the trial ended and the family later struggled for words to express their disappointment.
"This mistrial has added to their grief," said Gloria Allred, an attorney representing the family, "but they understand that the jury did their best."
David Guerrero, Araujo's uncle, said he was pleased prosecutors plan to try again but said that would be tough on the family.
"It's very difficult. I just don't want to see those pictures again. I don't want to hear that testimony again," he said.
The case had been closely watched by transgender advocates, who said the verdicts would send an important message. They had been critical of Magidson's attorney, Michael Thorman, who argued that the killing was "classic manslaughter," calling it a crime of passion provoked by sexual deception.
Jurors left the courthouse without speaking to reporters, but Allred said she had been told they apparently had not been leaning toward manslaughter but were hung up between first- and second-degree murder.
Activists said they were disappointed by the mistrial but encouraged that at least some jurors were considering murder verdicts.
"Today was justice delayed, not justice denied," said Christopher Daley, co-director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center.
According to trial testimony, the 17-year-old Araujo was beaten and strangled in the early morning hours of Oct. 4, 2002, following a confrontation at Merel's house in Newark, a San Francisco suburb.
The prosecution's key witness was 21-year-old Jaron Nabors, who initially was charged with murder, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter and agreed to testify.
Nabors said the three men set upon Araujo after another woman at the house ended the gender debate by grabbing Araujo's genitals. Nabors said Merel hit Araujo with a can and a skillet and Magidson punched, choked and kicked her.
As the attack began, Araujo begged, "No, please don't. I have a family," Nabors said.
Nabors said he didn't see the killing, but saw Magidson start to pull a rope toward Araujo's neck after she had been tied up. Nabors said Magidson later talked about twisting the rope.
Defense attorneys hammered away at Nabors' credibility, pointing out that he told different stories to police when first arrested.
Cazares, the only defendant to testify, had sought acquittal, saying he was outside when the killing took place and only helped bury the body.
Magidson's attorney, who argued for manslaughter, acknowledged his client played a role in the attack. Merel's attorney said jurors only had Nabors' word for it that Merel was involved in the assault, and even if they believed Nabors, Merel was not guilty of anything more than manslaughter.
After the mistrial, Thorman said it appeared some jurors agreed sexual provocation led to the killing. Cazares' attorney, Tony Serra, said he was "chagrined" by the verdict, saying it appeared one or two jurors had held out for first-degree murder based on emotion.
Guerrero said the family has lived through the killing three times, once when it happened, again at the preliminary hearing last year and now with the trial, which began with jury selection March 15.
He said they dread reliving the case again, but are prepared to do so.
"If it takes us 20 times to get justice, we'll do it 20 times," he said.