2 Verdicts, 1 Mistrial
Michael Magidson and Jose Merel were found guilty of 2nd Degree Murder, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life . Jason Cazares' case ended in a mistrial.
Magidson will be sentenced January 6, 2006 at 9 AM.
There will be a date to set a date for Merel's sentencing October 28, 2005 (perhaps due to his attorney's schedule conflicts.)
Cazares' (possible but unlikely) retrial is set for November 18 2005 9:55 AM in Dept. 513. Although it is too early to say, a plea bargain will probably be offered, as 3rd-time retrials are rare.
"2 juries, 2 verdicts--and (both times) total repudiation of the "trans-panic" defense."
--Chris Daly, TG Law Center
True enough, I guess, and I try to take heart in that, although justice was not wholly served. We all felt it.
But we heard Mr. Lamiero when he said--"Don't overlook the fact that this jury--(and the first jury)--rejected that defense," that because Gwen was transgender, that somehow explained or justified these men's crimes.
Although the jury voted 9 to 3 in favor of convicting Jason Cazares of murder, the 3 hold-outs felt there was not enough evidence to convict. "That is not to say they thought Cazares was innocent," Mr. Lamiero told family and supporters in the DA's meeting room.
And why no Hate Crime enhancement? Why did the jury not call this what it was--a horrendous Hate Crime? During the deliberations, the jury inquired, if they could not unanimously agree on the Hate Crime enhancement, "would that affect the verdict(s) overall?" The answer was no. This meant that some jurors understood and wanted the hate crime enhancement to accompany the verdicts, while others did not. Attorney Gloria Allred made several statements to the press that the idea, the definition of "Hate Crime" is new to juries, and that as people get a real understanding of what hate crimes are, this situation will change.
So we, as educators, have our work cut out for us.
As for the "15 years to life"---in California, people convicted of murder, rarely--if ever--get parole. Even though the symbolic verdict of First Degree Murder with a Hate Crime enhancement was not reached, Merel and Magidson will more than likely spend the rest of their lives in prison.
Regarding parole, Lamiero recounted a story about the DAs who prosecuted the Chowchilla kidnappers several years ago, who said: "You have to outlive the notoriety of your crime," in order to receive parole. In other words--when these men go up for parole after 15 years, if there are family and community members there to oppose it, they will stay in prison. That is how it is in California.
Most of us felt that Cazares, not Merel, should have received the harsher verdict. During this trial, the Merel family cooperated with the DA's office investigations. Jose Merel had taken the stand; many of us believed him when he stated that he cared about Gwen, and that it is likely that he was covering for his 2 big friends, Magidson and Cazares. But Merel had an opportunity to tell all he knew, and most of us felt that he did not. He continued to protect Magidson and Cazares, and now he will pay for it for the rest of his life.
When I arrived at the court house yesterday--Monday morning--it was pretty quiet. Gwen Smith, Zak Symanski, and Gloria Allred were there. The Cazares family was there, but otherwise, the hallway was mostly occupied with other court folks conducting their business, which was ordinairy yet strange. Shortly before noon, the clerk called folks into the court room, and the jury came in. Although we knew 2 verdicts were sealed, the jury was polled. They finally told the judge it was unlikely that they could reach a vercict on the 3rd. No one knew who the jury was deadlocked on, but we thought maybe it was Merel, or we hoped that was the case. The attorneys met in hushed voices, and it was agreed they would reconvene at 2:30 PM, and at that time, the verdicts would be read. The jurors had ordered lunch, and it was their intention to continue to deliberate.
It was after 3 PM when we came into court. It was a mobscene--media, of course, and so many people who work for the court. Family members from all concerned were there, it was warm and pretty claustrophobic. It was uncertain if there would be seats for everyone. Emotions were extremely high, the wait seemed very long. And then the verdicts were read.
In a murder trial, there are no winners. No one was happy or victorious. It just doesn't work or feel that way. You just sit there, wishing that this horrible thing hadn't happened period, in the first place, at all.
After the verdicts were read, we went up to a meeting room, and waited to hear from Mr. Lamiero. He arrived, and Sylvia thanked him for his dedication and hard work. A lot of questions were asked, and he did his best to answer them. After 40 minutes or so, folks went out to answer questions from the media.
The Alameda County DA's office gave unprecendented commitment, compassion, and resources to this case. The outcome might have been very different, had it not been for the efforts of Inspector Kathy Boyavich and ADA Chris Lamiero. They admittedly learned a lot from our community, and brought that knowledge forth. They valued Gwen Araujo's life, and made sure that the jury understood that.
Later that night, a vigil was held at the LGBT Center on Market Street in San Francisco at 6PM. Many folks--among them Cecilia Chung, Assembleyman Mark Leno, Shawna Virago, Julie Dorf, Gloria Allred, Gwen Smith, David Guerrero--were on hand to speak out and give their support. It was very moving.
It cannot be emphasized enough that Gwen Araujo was a 17 year old; she had her whole life ahead of her. Day after day in this courtwatch, I had to ask myself (because when I started my job at CUAV doing LGBT education, Gwen was 11 years old, and the men who murdered her were in high school)--what could we as a community have done--(what could I personally have done)--to prevent this from happening?
How could we have created a safer community Gwen?
The answer is education, but what does that mean?
Maybe for me, it means revitalizing our Speakers Bureau, expanding our relationships with other folks doing this work: working with transgender folks who want to educate youth, supporting Sylvia Guerrero and other trans-allied folks who also want to get involved, and expand these resources for schools and community groups. We have to speak out, we can't lose heart.
We have to stay involved.