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Defendant in
transgender teen killing breaks down on stand

Defendant in
transgender teen killing breaks down on stand


One of the three men charged with murdering a transgender teenager says he felt betrayed when he discovered that the person he thought was a fun, attractive girl was biologically male.

One of the three men charged with murdering a transgender teenager says he felt betrayed when he discovered the person he thought was a fun, attractive girl was biologically male. "I was crushed," Jose Merel testified Wednesday. "I don't know--it just broke my heart to hear that." Merel, along with Michael Magidson and Jason Cazares, all 25, are charged with first-degree murder in the death of Gwen Araujo, a killing prosecutors say took place in October 2002 after the teenager's biological identity was revealed in a showdown at Merel's house in Newark, a San Francisco suburb. Araujo, 17, was born a boy named Edward but grew up to believe her true identity was female. The case was charged as a hate crime. The defendants met Araujo in late summer 2002. According to earlier testimony, suspicions about her gender arose after Merel and Magidson, both of whom had had sexual encounters with the teenager, compared notes. A previous trial ended with a hung jury after a defense attorney argued that the killing was manslaughter committed in a passion provoked by sexual deception, an argument that angered Araujo's family and transgender rights advocates. Merel did not testify at the first trial. But he told jurors hearing this case that he was devastated when Magidson told him that Araujo, whom they knew as Lida, was biologically male. "Right after he told me that, I threw up in the bushes," Merel said. "It disgusted and it repulsed me." Merel was under cross-examination all day Wednesday from prosecutor Chris Lamiero, who was expected to continue his examination Thursday. On Wednesday, Merel broke down in tears when Lamiero pressed him on whether one of his friends had acknowledged strangling Araujo. "I want you to tell me, tell the jurors--did Mike tell you how Lida died?" Lamiero said as Merel hung his head, eyes averted from Magidson, who was sitting just feet away at the defense table. "I can't answer that," Merel said, wiping away his tears. "Jose, Mike told you that he strangled Lida with the rope in the garage, didn't he?" Lamiero insisted. After Merel repeatedly refused to answer, Alameda County superior court judge Harry Sheppard adjourned the case for lunch, telling deputies to keep Merel and Magidson apart. After the break, Merel answered the question calmly, saying Magidson had said that "if push came to shove," Merel should tell the police that Magidson had strangled Araujo. "You took it to mean he had done it, correct?" Lamiero said. "Yes," Merel said. Previously, a fourth man at the house that night, Jaron Nabors, had testified that Merel hit Araujo with a can and a frying pan. Nabors said he saw Magidson begin to pull a rope toward the teenager's neck but did not see the strangulation, although he said he later heard Magidson talk about twisting the rope. The 22-year-old Nabors, who led police to Araujo's body buried in a shallow grave in the Sierra foothills, initially was charged with murder but was allowed to plead to manslaughter in exchange for testifying. The defense attacked Nabors's credibility, noting he had lied to police in the past. Although they agree that Nabors lied, defense attorneys have taken different approaches in their cases. In opening statements, Magidson's attorney said the case was a crime of passion and is not murder. Cazares's attorney said his client wasn't involved in the murder and helped only to bury the body out of loyalty to his friends. Merel's attorney said his client struck Araujo only a glancing blow with the frying pan and did not seriously injure the teenager, saying Merel genuinely cared for Araujo. Despite Merel's strong reaction to the revelation about Araujo, Lamiero pointed out that Merel agreed with a suggestion from another woman at the house that Araujo should leave. "You knew that the better course of action was to get her out of that house, correct?" Lamiero said. "I wanted her out," Merel said. "You knew that was the right thing to do?" "Yes," said Merel. (AP)

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