According to WTAW, Nikki Araguz, the transgender widow fighting for the legitimacy of her marriage in court, was sentenced in an unrelated case to 50 days in jail after pleading guilty to theft. The charge stems from the theft of a Rolex watch last year. Araguz has also paid $2,800 in restitution.
Under a previous plea agreement Araguz would have received 15 days in jail. As previously reported by Houstini, Araguz arrived late to the sentencing hearing scheduled for State District Judge Vanessa Velasquez to sign off on that deal. Velasquez responded to Araguz’s tardiness by delaying sentencing and revoking Araguz’s bond.
Due to a quirk of the Harris County Jail’s booking system Araguz was originally booked into jail under her male birth name. Jails across the country use a “special person number” (SPN) system to track inmates. SPNs are assigned for life and are linked to finger prints. According to Ray Hill, a Houston area LGBT activist who has followed the case closely, when the Harris County booking clerk entered Araguz’s finger prints into the system her SPN from a previous arrest under her male name came up. The Harris County Jail retained that information despite her legal name change. Araguz has since been assigned a new SPN number and her record now correctly identifies her legal name.
Araguz is the widow of Wharton firefighter Capt. Thomas Araguz, who died in the line of duty last year. Capt. Araguz’s ex-wife and mother have sued to claim the portion of his survivor’s benefits reserved for the spouses of slain firefighters, claiming that since Nikki Araguz was identified as male at birth the marriage was invalid under Texas’ laws prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriage. Mrs. Araguz’s birth certificate identifies her as female, as does her state issued identification. The case is proceeding through the appeals process.
Hopefully Araguz’s sentencing on the theft charge signals the end of this criminal case which has become an unwelcome distraction from the important civil case regarding her marriage. Win or lose Araguz’s fight to defend the validity of her marriage will affect every person in the state of Texas who has changed their legal gender marker. Maybe we, as a community, can now focus on the very real threat to civil rights this case presents.