By Advocate.com Editors
Originally published on Advocate.com February 21 2003 1:00 AM ET
Pandemonium broke out after four men learned that the flirtatious girl they knew as Lida was biologically male, according to testimony given Wednesday in Fremont, Calif., by a woman who helped unmask Lida's biological sex. "It was chaos," said Nicole Brown. Prosecutors say that Lida--17-year-old Eddie "Gwen" Araujo--was killed at a party in the early morning hours of October 4. Brown, who was at the party, provided vivid details about what happened that night as she described how the group's doubts about Araujo's sexual identity escalated into violence, ending with the grim declaration, "We're going to get some shovels." Brown's testimony came at a hearing to determine whether four men--Jose Antonio Merel, 23; Michael William Magidson, 22; Jason Michael Cazares, 22; and Jaron Chase Nabors, 19--should stand trial for Araujo's death, which is being charged as a hate crime. Police say Araujo was beaten and strangled at the Merel house in Newark, Calif. About two weeks later, police say, Nabors led them to the body, buried in a shallow grave in the Sierra foothills about 150 miles east of Newark.
Brown, who was then dating Jose Merel's older brother, Paul, said she went to the Merels' home on October 3 and that she and Araujo made a beer run, picking up an 18-pack of Budweiser. Brown said she drank several beers that night and also smoked some marijuana, prompting defense attorneys to question the accuracy of her memory. Brown said her memory was "blurred about the night" but that she was not so drunk that she couldn't tell what was happening. Defense lawyers also pointed out inconsistencies between Brown's testimony and things she told police earlier. Brown said she had withheld some information earlier because she was afraid.
In her testimony Brown said she had been in a bedroom of the house when she heard noises and walked out to find Lida sitting in a chair pushed close to the wall while Jose Merel screamed in her face, "Are you a man or a woman?" Brown said Magidson decided to take Araujo into a bathroom and find out. She said the two were gone for 30 to 45 minutes, during which time the other three men told Brown that it would be better if she tried to ascertain Araujo's biological sex. Brown said she went to the bathroom and could hear Magidson and Araujo talking in low voices. She said she knocked on the door and then entered, finding Araujo sitting on the bathroom sink. "I looked at her, and she looked at me. I said, 'You don't mind if I check?' and she didn't answer me," Brown said. Brown said she pushed Araujo's legs apart and grabbed at the genital area. "I yelled, 'I felt something!"' Brown said.
Brown said Araujo just looked puzzled and remained seated on the sink with her head down. Later, she said, she noticed that Jose Merel was crying; he had spoken earlier about having had sexual contact with Araujo, Brown added. "I walked up to him and I grabbed him by the shoulders and I said, 'It's not your fault,"' Brown said. "I said, 'I went to high school with you. You were on the football team. Any woman that knows you after this--it's not going to matter. You'll still look like the football player I know you as. Just let her go."
Brown said she warned Araujo, "They're very angry. I think you should go now." Araujo got as far as the front yard but was walked back in by Magidson, Cazares, and Nabors, Brown said. Brown said she saw Magidson throw Araujo against the wall and punch her in the head twice. Brown also said Magidson grabbed Araujo by the neck. Brown made a choking sound to indicate how Araujo sounded as she struggled to breathe.
Sitting in the courtroom, Sylvia Guerrero, Araujo's mother, closed her eyes, shuddered, and then left the courtroom, her eyes full of tears.
Brown said she screamed when Magidson had his arm around Araujo's neck and that Emmanuel Merel, Jose's younger brother, pulled Magidson off. Brown said she and Paul Merel left the house shortly after that. She described Araujo as saying little throughout the evening, although she did say Araujo threatened to call police after the punching started. Before they left, Brown said she saw Magidson with spatters of blood on his hands, which were shaking. Brown said she saw Araujo sitting on a couch but did not make any attempt to get her out of the house. "They were very, very angry, and I believed if I took her out of the house, I would have got hurt," she said. Brown said Paul Merel told her to drive around the block and that as she circled back to the Merel house she saw Magidson and Cazares driving away in a truck. Brown testified that one of the two said, "We're going to get some shovels."