Araujo defendants plead innocent

BY Advocate.com Editors

April 04 2003 1:00 AM ET

The trial of three men accused of killing a transgendered teen in a fit of rage moved closer to a start date Wednesday when the defendants pleaded innocent to murder charges. Last month a judge found probable cause for the three men to stand trial, leading to their arraignment Wednesday. The trial could start nine months to a year from now, said Gloria Allred, attorney for the victim's family.

The case arises from the October 4 killing of Eddie "Gwen" Araujo, a 17-year-old who was born male but lived as a woman. The killing took place after Araujo's biological identity was unmasked at a party at the home of Jose Antonio Merel, 23, in Newark, a San Francisco suburb. According to testimony at a preliminary hearing last month, Araujo was slapped, choked, beaten with a skillet, tied up, and strangled in an attack that lasted for about two hours. Her attackers transported her body to the Sierra foothills, about 150 miles east of Newark, and buried it in a shallow grave.

Attorneys for the three men argued that they were carried away by passion after finding out that the beautiful girl they knew as Lida was a man. Two of the defendants had had sex with the teenager, believing her to be a girl, according to court testimony. It was after those encounters that suspicions arose about Araujo's gender, leading to the October 4 confrontation, witnesses said. However, a judge rejected those arguments.

Merel, along with 22-year-olds Jason Michael Cazares and Michael William Magidson, faces charges of murder in a hate crime. A fourth man, Jaron Chase Nabors, 20, was also charged in the murder but struck a deal to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter in return for testifying against his friends.

Once the trial begins, it likely will be closely followed, Allred said. "Many transgendered youths are in the closet," she said. "They live in fear. They are persecuted. They are humiliated. They are the victims of discriminatory acts and sometimes of violence. So there will be many people in this country who are looking at this case and are hoping for justice in this case."

Sylvia Guerrero, Araujo's mother, said she is ready for the trial to begin. "The sooner the better," she said, "the sooner my family will heal and we can move on."

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