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By Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

January 27, 2006, 4:28 p.m.

HAYWARD (BCN) - Two East Bay men were sentenced today to 15 years to life in state prison and a third was sentenced to six years for their roles in the brutal beating and strangulation death of Newark transgender teenager Gwen Araujo more than three years ago.

At a long and emotional hearing in a packed courtroom, Michael Magidson, of Fremont, 25, and Jose Merel, of Newark, 26, received the lengthier sentences because jurors at their second trial last year convicted them of second-degree murder for the death of Araujo, 17, at Merel's house in the early morning hours of Oct. 4, 2002.

Jason Cazares, a 26-year-old Newark man, received a shorter sentence because he pleaded no contest to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter last month so he wouldn't have to risk a murder conviction at a third trial.

Magidson and Merel, who have been in custody at the county jail, will be sent to state prison next week. But Alameda County Superior Court Judge Harry Sheppard allowed Cazares, who has been free on $1 million bail for the past 16 months, to remain free until March 30 so he can be present for the birth of his child in March.

According to his lawyer, Tony Serra, Cazares only will have to serve three years in prison because he already has served about two years in jail.

Magidson and Merel will be eligible for parole in 15 years, but few convicted murderers have been paroled by the state in recent years. Jurors deadlocked on the fate of all three defendants at their first trial in 2004. In the defendants' second trial, which ended Sept. 12, jurors deadlocked 9-3 in favor of convicting Cazares of first-degree murder.

A fourth defendant, 22-year-old Jaron Nabors of Newark, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter nearly three years ago in exchange for his testimony against the other three men. Nabors appeared at a hearing today at a separate courtroom down the hall from the other three defendants at which his sentencing was scheduled for May 22. His plea bargain calls for him to receive an 11-year state prison sentence.

Araujo was born as a male named Eddie but presented herself as a woman.

According to prosecutor Chris Lamiero, the four men killed Araujo following a night of drinking and smoking marijuana when they discovered that the beautiful woman they'd been socializing with for several months actually was a biological male.

According to testimony in the two trials, Araujo had sex with all of the men except Cazares.

The incident sparked outrage among the transgender community nationwide.

After sitting through two long trials at which the horrid details of Araujo's death were discussed at length, Araujo's numerous family members finally had an opportunity today to tell the defendants how Araujo's death has affected them. They spoke for about an hour.

Araujo's mother, Sylvia Guerrero, told the three men, "I'll never go back to being the person I was" and said her entire family has been "given a lifetime sentence of loss."

She also said she's been so affected by Araujo's death that she hasn't gone back to the legal secretary position she held for 16 years. Araujo's sister, Pearl Serrano, said, "Life without Gwen has been unbearable. Our mother will never be the same and has constant nightmares."

Serrano told the defendants, "You don't have the right to take the life of someone else, whether they're gay, straight or transgender. We're all human beings."

Araujo's aunt, Emma Rodrigues, said she was disgusted by the finger-pointing among the four men who were with Araujo the night she was killed as to who was most to blame.

Rodrigues said, "It's irrelevant who struck the first blow. There were four grown men there and they did nothing to stop her death."

She said Araujo "used poor judgment" in partying with the four men over a period of several months, but she said Araujo "shouldn't have paid for that mistake with her life."

Rodrigues said hanging out with the four men "validated her feelings of being a beautiful young woman.

She said that because Araujo was transgender, "She was rejected at school, at church and even by her own family."

Rodrigues said that one time Araujo opened a Bible and asked, "Where does God have a place for people like me?"

Before he was sentenced, Merel said, "From the bottom of my heart, I'm sincerely sorry. I wish I could erase it."

Referring to the name by which the four men knew Araujo, Merel said, "I know I didn't kill Lida and I didn't expect her to die."

He told her family members, "I know you will never forgive me, but I hope you will at least try."

In contrast, Magidson was unapologetic and unremorseful.

"This case was based entirely on lies by the witnesses and my co-defendants and encouraged by the prosecutor."

He said, "I'm here with my head held high" and claimed, "I didn't receive a fair trial."

Magidson said, "No one in this courtroom seems ready to face the truth."

Judge Sheppard was outraged at Magidson's comments, telling him, "Based on your remarks, I don't find you to be remorseful at all. You're blaming the district attorney and your co-defendants."

The judge said, "You haven't expressed at all that you're sorry."

At the request of Magidson's lawyer, Michael Thorman, Sheppard had stricken from Magidson's probation report a statement that there are doubts he could be rehabilitated because he hadn't expressed any remorse.

But after Magidson's comment in court, the judge re-inserted the probation officer's finding that Magidson is unlikely to be rehabilitated. Following the hearing, Lamiero said, "Mr. Magidson didn't do himself any favors" with his statement today.

The prosecutor said "his words will come back to haunt him" when he's up for parole with the state Board of Prison Terms because officials will be allowed to take his words into consideration.

As for the case as a whole, Lamiero said, "I would hope it makes the statement that you don't get to kill and make excuses just designed to suit you and your sensibilities."

He said he also hoped, "It will send a message to people in general that you're entitled to be who you are and no one has the right to take that away from you."

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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