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California State Appeals Court Upholds Conviction of Gwen Araujo’s Killers

Transgender Law Center & National Center for Lesbian Rights Applaud Decision

(San Francisco, CA, May 14, 2009)—On May 13, 2009, California’s First District Court of Appeal unanimously affirmed the second-degree murder convictions of Michael Magidson and Jose Merel for the murder of Gwen Araujo in 2002. Araujo, a 17-year old from Newark, California was brutally murdered after Magidson and Merel discovered that she was a transgender woman.

The Transgender Law Center applauds the decision, and the Court’s refusal to allow prejudice against transgender people to weaken the conviction. “It is offensive and harmful to suggest that the murder of a young woman should be reduced to manslaughter merely because the victim happened to be transgender,” said Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center. “We are thankful that the Court of Appeal saw through this blatant prejudice, and upheld the convictions of Gwen’s killers.”

The original trial of Magidson and Merel was the first in which a hate crimes charge was used to prosecute the murder of a transgender person. After the defense attempted to discredit and blame Araujo’s transgender status for her murder, both Magidson and Merel were convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15-years to life. Two other perpetrators, Jaron Nabors and Jason Cazares, took plea bargains to voluntary manslaughter. Nabors, who took his plea back in 2002 when he lead police to Gwen's body, was sentenced to eleven years. Cazares, after two mistrials, finally plead no contest to voluntary manslaughter was sentenced to a six-year sentence.

To ensure that future convictions would not be impacted by juror bias and so-called “panic strategies”, California passed the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act (AB 1160) in 2006. Authored by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber and sponsored by Equality California, the bill puts California firmly on record as opposing a defendant’s use of societal bias against their victim in order to decrease their own culpability for a crime.

“Gwen’s death was a tragedy,” said Kristina Wertz, Legal Director of the Transgender Law Center. “While the court’s decision does not bring Gwen back, it brings justice to her memory by rejecting the idea that her killers where somehow less responsible for their actions because of Gwen’s gender identity.”

“We are gratified that the Court did the right thing,” said Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Many transgender people, especially transgender women of color, have lost their lives due to hatred and bias. While we are relieved that justice has prevailed in this case, it will not bring Gwen Araujo back to those who loved her. More is needed to prevent this kind of tragedy from taking place.”

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

The Transgender Law Center (TLC) is a civil rights organization advocating for transgender communities. TLC uses direct legal services, education, community organizing, and advocacy to transform California into a state that recognizes and supports the needs of transgender people and their families.

media contacts:


Erik Olvera
Director of Communications
National Center for Lesbian Rights
office: 415.392.6257 x324

Bethany Woolman
Communications Associate
National Center for Lesbian Rights
office: 415.392.6257 x305

Transgender Law Center Logo

Masen Davis
Communications Director
Transgender Law Center


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