Three young men have been charged with murder in the beating and strangling death of a 17-year-old transgendered teen whose body was found in a shallow grave in Northern California two weeks after she disappeared. Police said Eddie Araujo showed up at the house party as a girl named Lida and was assaulted and killed after it was discovered she was a biological male. The defendants allegedly beat her, gashing her head, and then dragged her semiconscious body to the garage, where they tightened a rope around her neck. Then they drove her body to a remote spot in the Sierra foothills and buried her in a shallow grave, a police affidavit said. "They're going to pay for what they did," said Araujo's aunt, Imelda Guerrero. "I hope everybody out there who sees this learns something from this because [she] was a beautiful person, inside and out."
Michael William Magidson, 27; Jaron Chase Nabors, 19; and Jose Antonio Merel, 24, all of Newark, Calif., appeared in court Friday on charges of murder with a hate-crime enhancement. They entered no pleas and were held without bail. Nabors's lawyer, Robert J. Beles, said his client is a college student who has no history of violence. "There's no bias in him," Beles said, adding that there is nothing to indicate that Nabors "would actively participate in any type of homophobic activity." A fourth suspect who was arrested Wednesday--Merel's brother, Paul Richard Merel Jr., 25--was released when the district attorney's office determined that there was not enough evidence to prosecute him. Police have not ruled out other suspects.
According to the affidavit, it was Paul's girlfriend, Nicole Brown, who discovered Araujo's secret after taking her into a bathroom at the Merels' home, location of the party, to determine her gender. After she announced that Araujo was a biological male, Jose Merel punched Araujo to the floor, and Nabors and Magidson joined in, police said. Paul Merel said he was sleeping when his girlfriend woke him and insisted that they flee, saying, "It's a man, let's go." He told police he saw Araujo lying on the floor with her skirt pulled up as they left the house but that he knew nothing more. Police said the other three drove the body to the mountains.
Araujo had been dressing in girls' clothes "for some time" and had clashed with the suspects about a week before the October 3 party, said Newark police lieutenant Tom Milner. "We don't know if that's the prime factor in the altercation or if there were other factors involved, such as revenge," Milner said. "These things are all definitely in play."