Press

Judge in Gwen Araujo Murder Case Declares Mistrial Tuesday, Citing Deadlocked Jury

Date: 
June 22, 2004

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National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Calls "Gay Panic" Defense A Disgrace to Our Judicial System

On October 14, 2002, Newark, CA., seventeen year-old Gwen Araujo was brutally killed by four men because she was transgender. She had been intimate with two of the men previously, and they had suspected that she was biologically male. All four men met to talk about their suspicions. They created what one killer testified was a "Tony Soprano-like plan to kill him and get rid of the body." One week later they accosted her, beat her for six hours, drove her body to a remote national park, and buried her in a shallow grave. The investigating detective described the overwhelming display of violence as "overkill."

Three of the four defendants were charged with first-degree murder with a hate crimes enhancement. Two of the defendants asserted the "gay panic" defense. The "gay panic" defense alleges that following an encounter with a person whom a straight-identified individual believes to be gay, that straight-identified individual becomes so terrified by implications for his own sexuality that he kills that person in an unthinking rage. When successful, this defense reduces a charge from murder to manslaughter, which can significantly lessen the sentence imposed. This reduction may occur despite the fact that these crimes are frequently characterized, as here, by gratuitous violence.

In Araujo's case, the defense argued that senseless brutality committed against Araujo was manslaughter, which carries a substantially shorter sentence that the charge of murder, because the men had been "pushed beyond reason by their discovery that Araujo had deceitfully lured the men into having homosexual sex."

The following statement is attributable to Matt Foreman, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

"We are sickened that that the jury in the Gwen Araujo murder case deadlocked and a mistrial was declared. Our hearts and thoughts go out to Ms. Araujo's family and friends."

The perpetrators committed an unprovoked, pre-meditated, and horrifyingly violent murder, followed by a calculated attempt to hide their crime. Clearly, the only "reason" for this atrocity was that two of the perpetrators felt shamed that they had sex with Ms. Araujo and then learned she was a transgender person. That this "defense" is even allowed is a disgrace to our judicial system; that even one juror bought this pathetic line reconfirms the virulent hatred and loathing of transgender people that lives in our society.

"Sadly, today's result is not out of the ordinary. Perpetrators of similar, hate-motivated murders of transgender people have long escaped any punishment for their acts by relying on prejudice and ignorance. This must stop. We commend the district attorney for committing to a retrial of these violent thugs and ensuring that justice is served."

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.