Murder Trial Starts in Teen’s Slaying
The killing of a transgender teen was coldblooded murder carried out by three men furious that they had been deceived by a beautiful girl who turned out to be biologically male, a prosecutor said as he began presenting his case Wednesday.
“Make no mistake about it; Eddie’s death was an execution,” said Chris Lamiero, making his opening statements in the case of Eddie “Gwen” Araujo, whose slaying has drawn national attention to violence against people who believe their identity is at odds with their biology.
Araujo, 17, was beaten and strangled after the alleged killers discovered the teenager was biologically male at a party in October 2002.
Angry shouts of, “Are you a woman or a man?” escalated to murder fueled by the explosive combination of insecure male egos and “tough guy” personalities, the prosecutor said.
“It was this cast of characters that would snuff out his life, stick him in a hole in the forest and then head off to McDonald’s for breakfast,” said Lamiero, who used female pronouns to refer to Araujo as “Gwen” or “Lida,” the names Araujo preferred, but male pronouns when talking about Araujo as a murder victim.
On trial are Michael Magidson, 23, and Jose Merel and Jason Cazares, both 24. A fourth man, 20-year-old Jaron Nabors, initially was charged with murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter and has been promised an 11-year prison sentence in exchange for testifying against the other three. It was Nabors who in mid-October led police to Araujo’s body, buried in a shallow grave in a remote area near Lake Tahoe.
At a preliminary hearing last year, Nabors gave a starkly detailed picture of Araujo’s final hours, describing how the teenager was choked, hit with a skillet, kneed in the face, tied up and strangled.
Nabors and the three men on trial had met Araujo as “Lida” in the summer of 2002 and had become friends, often hanging out at Merel’s house in Newark, a San Francisco suburb. But suspicions about Araujo’s gender arose, and Merel and Magidson, who had both had sex with Araujo, began to compare notes about their encounters, setting the stage for the showdown at Merel’s house on Oct. 3.
Attorneys for Magidson and Merel have suggested that their clients acted in the heat of passion, which would support a manslaughter charge instead of murder. Cazares’ attorney has said his client might have helped bury the body, but was not part of the killing.
On Wednesday, Lamiero showed jurors a picture of Araujo, long blond hair flowing, to show that “Eddie made a very beautiful woman.”
Of the three defendants, looking clean-cut in court with short hair and dark jackets, Lamiero said Merel had “absolutely no use for gay people,” but it wasn’t clear whether the other two shared that bias.
Still, the case, said Lamiero, wasn’t about Araujo being transgender; it was about murder.
“They decided,” Lamiero said, “that the wages of Eddie Araujo’s sin of deception were death.”