Hearing begins in Araujo case

BY Advocate.com Editors

January 31 2003 1:00 AM ET

New details in the case of murdered transgendered teen Gwen Araujo emerged Wednesday when a witness testified that she received a phone call from one of the defendants the night of Araujo's death and heard screaming and shouts of "Just tell me!" in the background.

Prosecutors say the 17-year-old Araujo, who was born male but believed her true gender to be female, was beaten and strangled at an October party in the Northern California town of Newark by killers enraged that the beautiful girl they knew as "Lida" was biologically male.

"These defendants, acting in concert, committed a brutal and cold-blooded murder," assistant district attorney Connie Campbell said Wednesday at the beginning of a preliminary hearing in Alameda County to determine whether the four men charged in the killing should stand trial. The defendants--23-year-olds Jose Antonio Merel and Jason Michael Cazares, 22-year-old Michael William Magidson, and 19-year-old Jaron Chase Nabors--have all pleaded innocent to the murder, which was charged as a hate crime. Friends and relatives of the defendants describe them as hardworking young men who didn't harbor homophobic feelings.

Campbell said Araujo had engaged in sexual acts with one or more of the defendants. She says the defendants had conversations about whether Araujo was biologically male or female and had determined to find out on the night of the party, October 3.

Witness Deanna Mendez, who said she had an intimate relationship with Cazares in recent months and knew all four defendants, testified that she received a call from Cazares at about 3 a.m. on October 4. She said she heard a noise in the background, "basically yelling at someone to tell him the truth about something." Mendez said she believed she recognized one of the voices as that of Merel. She acknowledged that she earlier had told her mother that she heard someone say, "I am a girl," but said on the stand she wasn't sure. Mendez conceded she was a reluctant witness because of her friendship with the defendants.

The hearing will continue Thursday and is expected to pick up again on February 18.

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