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Empathy defense offered in Araujo case
By Ivan Delventhal, STAFF WRITER

May 21, 2004 HAYWARD -- Instinctive empathy, rather than a guilty conscience, could have led one of three men charged with killing a transgender Newark teenager to help his friends bury the body, a psychiatrist called by the defense testified in court Thursday.

But under cross-examination, the psychiatrist also acknowledged that empathy could have led the man to participate in the slaying.

Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld, a Sausalito psychiatrist, was summoned Thursday as the final witness for defendant Jason Cazares as testimony in the murder trial neared its conclusion at the Hayward Hall of Justict.

Cazares, 24, of Newark, testified this week that he never committed any violence against the teenager--who was born Eddie Araujo but was living as a young woman named Gwen at the time of the killing. The prosecution's star witness testified earlier than Cazares participated in the October 4, 2002, attack that ended with the teen being stranged in the garage of a Newark home.

Schoefeld's testimony was intended to explain to the juiry why Cazares, who also testified that he had attempted to stop the assault, would have agreed to retrieve several shovels and a pickax from his home and then accompany his friends to bury the body in the Sierra foothills.

Cazares' attorney, J. Tony Serra, has referred to the theory explaining his client's behavior as the "automatic emphathetic response."

Cazares is charged with his friends Michael Magidson of Fremont and Jose Merel of Newark, both 24, with muder and a hate-crimed enhancement in Araujo's slaying. The prosectution contends that the men beat and stranged Araujo in Merel's home upon discovering that Araujo was biologically male.

According to testimony, Madigson and Merel had engaged in sexual acts with Araujo while believing the teen to be an attractive and flirtatious 19-years-old woman named Lida. In the days before the killing, however, Magidson and Merel had begun to express doubts about the teen's gender and talked abut how a person who hand engaged in sexual deception could end up dead, according to testimony.

Schoenfeld's testimony Thursday included a detailed discussion of the concept of empathy.

"Empathy is when we're able to experience the feelings of someone else," Schoenfeld said in response to a question by Serra. "A few years ago, it was common to hear, 'I feel your pain' --it's that kind of experience."

The psychiatrist later explained that empathy is not volitional response but rather something that happens involuntarily.

It is important for Serra to provide an explanation for why Cazares would have helped bury Araujo. Burying the body, as a kind of evidence suppression, potentially could be viewed as circumstantial evidence of guilt in the slaying.

Cazars testified that he was outside the home, smoking cigarettes, when the teen was killed. Deputy District Attorney Chris Lamiero alleges that Cazars was inside the home and actively participated in the killing.

In his questioning Thursday, Serra suggested that his client had been swept up in "an avalanche of empathy" upon learning Araujo was killed.

Court will reconvene Monday, when sttorneys for Magidson and Merel are expected to call afdditional witnesses.

Judge Harry Sheppard predicted that testimonony in the case probably would conclude by Tuesday. Closing arguments have been tentatively set for June 1.

The psychiatrist resonded that a man in Cazares' position certainly would be subject to empjhaty. The doctor agreed that the man in the scenario--who like Cazares claimed he simply couldn't reject a friends's appeal for assistance--would be manifesting the "authomatic empathetic response."

Lamiero's cross-examination of the psychiatrist lasted about 60 seconds. He asked Schoenfeld whether empathjy could have led the central figure i Serra's hypothetical scenario to feel the anger, rage and and desire for vengeance of his friends. The psychiatrist replied that it could.

"Could empathy also cause him to embark on a murderous course along with the other two? Lamiero asked. "In other words, could empathy make him feel that same impulse to kill tht the other two feel?"

Schoenfeld agreed that empathy could also have that effect.

Court will reconvene Monday, when attorneys for Magidson and Merel are expected to call additional witnesses.

Judge Harry Sheppard predicted that testimony in the case probably would conclude by Tuesday. Closing arguments have been tentatively for June 1.


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