Araujo defendant describes grisly murder

BY Advocate.com Editors

February 27 2003 12:00 AM ET

Four men accused of killing a transgendered teen after discovering that the girl they knew as Lida was biologically male hurled insults at her makeshift grave, with one of the men saying he could "still kick her a couple of times," one of the defendants testified Tuesday. As the victim's family listened aghast, Jaron Chase Nabors gave his version of the ugly details of Eddie "Gwen" Araujo's death--from a defendant ordering her off a couch after a beating because she was bleeding on it to all four stopping at McDonald's for breakfast on the way home from burying the 17-year-old's body in the Sierra foothills. "No regard for anything. No regard. No remorse. No regard for contemplating what they'd done," David Guerrero, Araujo's uncle, said outside the courthouse. "The details are just so gruesome. It just gets you right in the heart."

Nabors, 19, had been charged with murder. But he struck a deal Monday to plead guilty to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter in return for testifying against his companions at a hearing to determine if they should stand trial. Still facing charges of murder are Jose Antonio Merel, 23; Michael William Magidson, 22; and Jason Michael Cazares, 22, all accused of beating and strangling Araujo at Merel's house in suburban Newark, Calif.

The attack began after the defendants' growing suspicions about Araujo's sex were confirmed at a party on October 3, Nabors said. Magidson and Merel had previously had sex with Araujo on separate occasions and began to have questions about her sex after comparing stories, Nabors said. After the beating started, Nabors said, he and Cazares left to get shovels. Nabors said he returned to the Merel house to find Araujo sitting on a couch, her face covered in blood. Merel, who according to Nabors had earlier struck Araujo on the head with a can and a skillet, told Araujo to "get off the couch because he had to clean the couch," Nabors said. Magidson asked Nabors to lend him a knife and then returned with a bundle of rope.

Araujo was standing against a wall when Cazares said, "Knock that bitch out," Nabors testified. "I said, 'Yeah, knock that bitch out,"' said Nabors, explaining that he wanted to prevent Araujo from screaming and also thought "it might bring an end to whatever." Magidson punched Araujo twice in the head, and she slid down into a sitting position against the wall, Nabors said. He said Magidson then smashed his knee into Araujo's face twice. Nabors said he heard a thump and then saw a hollow in the wall where Araujo's head had struck.

Nabors said Magidson then tied Araujo up at the wrists and ankles. He said Araujo did not appear unconscious but offered no resistance. Araujo was then wrapped in a comforter and dragged into the garage. "I just remember it being said that she was getting blood on the carpet," Nabors testified. Nabors said that as he left the garage he saw Magidson pulling a piece of the rope toward Araujo's head. However, he admitted that in a letter he wrote to his girlfriend from jail he said he had seen Magidson place the rope around Araujo's neck. Araujo's body was placed in the back of a pickup truck, and the four headed east toward the Sierra foothills.

First, said Nabors, he stopped to borrow a shirt from Merel. "I had a nice shirt on, and I didn't want to wear it," Nabors said. "I believed it was going to get dirty...because we were going to bury Lida." During the ride to the burial site, Nabors continued, Magidson said "he had wrapped the rope around Lida's neck and twisted it. He just said that he kept twisting it." Cazares acknowledged that he had hit Araujo twice in the head with a shovel after the body was in the truck, Nabors said. That came up when Magidson commented that he wasn't sure whether Araujo had died while he was twisting the rope, "but then once Jay [Cazares] had hit her with the shovel twice, [Magidson] knew for sure," Nabors testified.

At the gravesite the four took turns digging in the rocky ground before dragging Araujo's body across the ground to the hole, Nabors said. They threw heavy rocks on top of the body and then filled in the hole with dirt and dragged a dead tree trunk across it, he said. "[Merel] said he was so mad that he could--not that he should--but that he could still kick her a couple of times," Nabors testified. Nabors too had some parting words. "I just said I couldn't believe that someone would ever do that," he said. "That someone would ever be that deceitful."

Back home the four agreed to tell no one. But Nabors called a friend and told him about the events of the night. Eventually the story reached police, who contacted Nabors. In mid October, police say, Nabors led them to Araujo's body. Nabors is scheduled to resume testifying March 17.

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