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Two defendants convicted in transgender killing

Jurors have convicted two defendants and deadlocked on a third defendant in the killing of transgender teen Gwen Araujo.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two men who had sex with a transgender teen and then discovered she was biologically male were convicted Monday of her murder but cleared of hate crime charges.

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 Gwen Araujo, who was beaten, tied up and strangled.

The jury was deadlocked in the case of a third man, Jason Cazares, 25, marking the second time a jury was unable to reach a verdict in his case.

Araujo, 17, was born a boy named Edward but grew up to believe her true identity was female. The defendants, who knew her as Lida, met her 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.

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.

Victim was strangled after revealing biological gender
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.

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.

An autopsy found that Araujo died of asphyxiation associated with head injuries.

Nabors testified that Merel smashed Araujo in the head with a can and also hit her with a pan. Merel said he slapped Araujo and hit her a glancing blow with the pan, but he denied seriously injuring her.

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.

Merel's attorney said he was not guilty of anything more than felony assault, if that.

Magidson's attorney asked for a manslaughter conviction.