The Trial of Gwen Araujo's Killers

TW/CW: violence against the LGBTQ+ community, murder, misgendering, deadnaming, homophobia, transphobia

Magidson, Nabors, and José Merél were charged with murder on October 17, 2002 and held without bail. [1] A letter sent by Nabors to his girlfriend would eventually lead to the implication and arrest of Cazares on Oct. 19. [2]

Jaron Nabors

Nabors pleaded guilty on Feb. 24, 2003 to a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, which carried an 11-year prison sentence in exchange for testifying against the other three defendants. [3] During his 2003 indictment proceedings, Nabors gave a detailed account of the murder and burial of Araujo. According to Nabors, as the men were burying her, the continued to demean her. He testified that he stated he “couldn’t believe that someone would ever do that, would be that deceitful” and that José Merél added he “was so mad he could still kick her a couple more times.” [4] Nabors received an 11-year sentence on Aug. 25, 2006.

With credit for time served, he was released from prison sometime before 2016. [5]

Magidson, Merél, Cazares

First Trial

The first trial for Magidson, Merél, and Cazares began on April 14, 2004. Both the prosecutor and defense attorney used male pronouns and Araujo’s deadname throughout the trial. [6] In his opening statement, the defense attorney for Magidson argued that he should not be charged with murder, rather manslaughter at worst. [7] He invoked the LGBTQ+ panic defense by saying that his client was not biased but had been shocked “beyond reason” to learn he had unwittingly had sex with a “man.” [8] During his testimony, Nabors said he felt his friends who had engaged in sexual activities with Araujo had been “raped” since she “did not come clean with being what [s]he really was. I feel like [s]he forced them into homosexual sex, and my definition of rape was being forced into sex.” When asked how Araujo had “forced them,” Nabors answered, “Through deception.” [9]

This trial demonstrated clear anti-transgender bias in the courtroom. The defense’s strategy was rooted in the LGBTQ+ panic defense through the defense of provocation or “manslaughter in the heat of passion.” This defense was used to prove that there was no premeditation in the murder of Gwen and that she was the guilty one. What was she guilty of? “Sexual deceit.”

The trial ended in a mistrial on June 22 following nine days of deliberation. [10]

Second Trial

The second trial began on May 31, 2005. Transgender activists played a crucial role in informing the public about the shady tactics used by the defense lawyers (LGBTQ+ panic defense) which has shifted blame onto Araujo for her own death. This dramatically changed the approach for the second trial by recentering Araujo as the victim. The day after the first trial ended, a court granted Araujo’s mother’s petition for a posthumous name change. This would now require the prosecution and defense attorneys to refer to Araujo by her real name and correct pronouns. [11]

In this trial, Magidson, Merél, and Cazares were charged with first-degree murder with hate-crime enhancements. [12] During Magidson’s testimony, a tape of his first interview with police was shown, in which an investigator was recorded coaching him on how to use the LGBTQ+ panic defense. [13] And, once again, this defense was invoked by the defense attorney of one of the men, who argued in his closing statement that the three defendants were “ordinary human beings” who were guilty, at most, of manslaughter for their role in a “classic state of heat and passion” death. [14]

Two of the men involved in Gwen’s murder, Michael Magidson and Jose Merel, were eventually convicted of second-degree murder and faced mandatory sentences of 15 years to life in prison; however, they were cleared of hate-crime charges. [15] While Gwen’s family and many transgender advocates were happy with the victory they were able to secure, some said that the outcome wasn’t enough considering the brutality of the crime.

Merél expressed deep sorrow and regret to Araujo's family. However, Magidson was angry about his verdict and expressed "no remorse" for his role in murdering Araujo. [16]

To aoivd a third trial, Cazares pleaded no contest to manslaughter on Dec. 16, 2005 and was sentenced to only six years in prison, with credit for time already served. [17] Cazares asked to begin serving his sentence after the birth of his third child who was expected for March or April 2006. This request was granted, although Lamiero noted that it was difficult for him to entertain a request like that when Gwen was dead. 

Parole and Release

José Merél was granted parole in 2016 with the support of Araujo's mother Sylvia Guerrero. [19] Michael Magidson said he was not ready for release at his parole board hearing in 2016, and his request for parole was also opposed by Guerrero. [20] Magidson was denied parole again in September 2019. [21] Jason Cazares was released from prison in July 2012. [22] Jason Nabors was release from prison some time before 2016. [23]





TransVision, a comprehensive health and social services program for transgender individuals in Alameda County was founded after the murder of Gwen Araujo and was operated by the Tri-City Health Center.

On the first anniversary of Araujo's murder, Horizons Foundation created the Gwen Araujo Memorial Fund for Transgender Education. Its purpose is to support school-based programs in the Bay Area that promote understanding of transgender people and issues through annual grants. [24] Through this fund, Araujo's mother and her family has been able to speak in middle and high schools about transgeder awareness and understanding. By 2005 - just three years after her daughter's death - Guerrero had spoken at more than 20 schools. [25]

However, Guerrero suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She used to be a legal assistant at a San Jose law firm, but has been unable to return to work. [26] She is now homeless due to the PTSD she has from her daughter's death and uses a borrowed car from her friend to pass between relative's houses. Despite her struggles, Guerrero has been a relentless advocate of transgender rights. 


[1] “No Bail In Cross-Dressing Murder,” CBS News, October 18, 2002, 

[2] Times Wire Reports, “Fourth Arrest Made in Transgender Killing,” Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2002, 

[3] Henry K. Lee,“Guilty plea in transgender killing/Defendant makes deal, testifies against friends,” SFGATE, February 25, 2003, 

[4] Kelly St. John, “Chilling time line of a killing/Death of a transgender teen described in grisly detail,” SFGATE, February 26, 2003, 

[5] Henry K. Lee, “11 years for defendant in Araujo killing,” SFGATE, August 26, 2006, 

[6] Associated Press, "Murder Trial Starts in Teen's Slaying," Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2004,

[7] Associated Press, "Murder Trial Starts." 

[8] Associated Press, “Passion Blamed for Teen’s Slaying,” Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2004, 

[9] Kelly St. John, “Defense grills start witness in teen murder trial/ ‘You’re lying,’ lawyer says to man who pleaded guilty,” SFGATE, April 28, 2004, 

[10] Marisa Lagos, “Mistrial Declared in Teen’s Killing,” Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2004, 

[11] John M. Glionna, “Keeping Focus on Victim in Retrial,” Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2005, 

[12] Jim Herron Zamora, “Teen’s death a crime of passion, defense says,” SFGATE. August 26, 2005, 

[13] Zak Szymanski, “Final defendant testifies in Araujo murder trial,” Bay Area Reporter, August 17, 2005, 

[14] Zamora, “Crime of passion.” 

[15] Henry K. Lee, “Manslaughter rule out, Araujo juror says/‘Events devolved into brutal beating and homicide,” SFGATE, September 14, 2005, 

[16] Zak Szymanksi, “Araujo’s killers sentenced,” Bay Area Reporter, February 1, 2006, 

[17] Henry K. Lee, “Araujo case draws to close/Last defendant pleads no contest to avoid third trial,” SFGATE, December 17, 2005, 

[18] Szymanski, “Araujo’s killers sentenced." 

[19] Seth Hemmelgarn, “Parole granted for Araujo killer,” Bay Area Reporter, November 2, 2016, 

[20] Malaika Fraley, “Gwen Araujo murder 14 years later: Transgender teen’s killers face parole,” The Mercury News, October 14, 2016, 

[21] Cynthia Laird, “Online Extra: Parole denied for killer of Bay Area transgender teen,” Bay Area Reporter, September 11, 2019, 

[22] Seth Hemmelgarn and Cynthia Laird, “Ten years later, Araujo’s murder resonates,” Bay Area Reporter, October 3, 2012, 

[23] Fraley, “Killers face parole.” 

[24] Staff Reports, “Group creates Araujo memorial fund,” Oakland Tribune, May 3, 2004,

[25] Wyatt Buchanan,“Transgender community feels joy, anger at Araujo verdict,” SFGATE, September 13, 2005, 

[26] Fraley, “Killers face parole.” 

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