Parole granted for Araujo killer

  • by Seth Hemmelgarn
  • Wednesday November 2, 2016
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Parole has been granted for one of the men who murdered transgender teenager Gwen Araujo in 2002, while parole for another one of Araujo's killers has been denied.

The state Board of Parole Hearings granted parole for Jose Antonio Merel, 36, after a hearing last month at Soledad State Prison. The board denied parole for Michael William Magidson, 36. Magidson is being held at Valley State Prison.

Araujo, 17, was killed in October 2002 at a house party in the East Bay city of Newark, California. Two men at the party had reportedly had sex with the young woman they'd known as Lida, and they murdered her after their suspicions that she was biologically male were confirmed. The men then drove Araujo's body to a grave in the Sierra foothills.

Araujo's murder brought unprecedented attention to transgender issues and prompted state law barring the use of the "panic defense," where people charged with murder defend themselves by claiming the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity triggered them.

Merel, whose parole hearing was October 14, and Magidson, whose hearing was October 12, are serving prison sentences of 15 years to life after being convicted of second-degree murder.

Sylvia Guerrero, 52, Araujo's mother, has been supportive of Merel. In 2012, she told the Bay Area Reporter that she planned to visit him at Soledad.

"I've been talking on and off with the Merel family for years," Guerrero, who lives in Manteca, California, said at the time. She said that of the four men, Merel has "always been remorseful."

But Guerrero wants Magidson to stay in prison.

In an October 12 Facebook post, she said, "I trust in God that he will remain behind bars as he should be. He's never showed remorse nor taken responsibility for his actions. ... Here's to keeping this dangerous person incarcerated for as long as possible."

The earliest Merel may be released will be around January.

Parole agent Brian Kelley, who's with the state parole board, said the agency's legal division has 120 days to review the decision in Merel's case for any legal or factual errors. Governor Jerry Brown will then have 30 days to review the decision.

Magidson stipulated to a three-year denial, Kelley said, meaning he agreed that the board should not grant his parole. His next hearing will be no later than October 12, 2019.

Others involved in Araujo's killing have already been freed.

Jason Cazares, 36, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was discharged from prison in 2012. Jaron Nabors, 33, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for his testimony and has been discharged.

Since her daughter's murder, Guerrero has worked to raise awareness of trans issues. But she's been faced with physical and financial problems, on top of the emotional destruction that came with her Araujo's death.

"I've lost everything," Guerrero said in an interview last year. "I lost my kid. She's never going to go home. That's the one thing I wish never happened ... When they killed Gwen, they killed her mom. This is just what's left of me. It's changed my life forever."

Despite the importance of Araujo's death, though, many seem to have forgotten.

In her Facebook post the day of Magidson's parole hearing, Guerrero wrote, "I'm very shocked and surprised from the lack of letters being written to the board. It saddens me to no end."

A Gofundme campaign to help Guerrero is at