Witness Unable to Testify About Transgender Teen’s Slaying
The trial of three men accused of killing transgender teenager Eddie “Gwen” Araujo was thrown off course Monday when a key witness tearfully declared that she was not up to testifying.
Nicole Brown, who had begun testifying Thursday, was expected to talk about the chaotic scene that ensued the night she followed the teenager into a bathroom and confirmed the group’s growing suspicion that the beautiful girl they knew as “Lida” was biologically male.
But with a mumbled, “I can’t do it today,” Brown declined to answer questions.
Judge Harry Sheppard called a recess to give Brown time to compose herself, but later excused her until today. Sheppard told jurors that Brown had “experienced some recent distress that’s totally unrelated to this case in all respects.”
Outside court, attorneys said Brown needed time to take care of a personal problem.
The trial continued with brief testimony from a police detective who had helped find the body and then recessed for the day.
On trial are Michael Magidson, 23, and Jose Merel and Jason Cazares, both 24. A fourth man, Jaron Nabors, initially was charged with murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter after he was promised an 11-year sentence in exchange for testifying against his friends.
At the time of Araujo’s death in the fall of 2002, Brown was the girlfriend of Merel’s older brother. She was at the Merel house on Oct. 3 for what Nabors and others had described as a confrontation with Araujo that began with shouts of “Are you a man or a woman?”
At a preliminary hearing last year, Brown testified that she had been deputized to find out, which she said she did by grabbing at Araujo’s genitals.
“I felt something!” she yelled, according to her earlier testimony, setting off pandemonium in the house in Newark, a San Francisco suburb.
According to prosecutors, Araujo was set upon by the people who the teenager thought were friends and was choked, punched, kicked, bound and strangled. Araujo’s body was thrown in the back of a pickup and driven to a remote location in the Sierra near Lake Tahoe.
Nabors took police to the body, which had been buried in a shallow grave, in mid-October. The discovery was reported nationally and focused attention on violence against people who believe that their identity is in conflict with their biology.
In opening statements last week, Magidson’s attorney, Michael Thorman, said the killing was manslaughter, not murder. According to Nabors, Magidson and Merel had sex with Araujo. Thorman said the shock of learning that he unwittingly had had sex with a man upset Magidson “beyond reason.”
Cazares’ attorney, Tony Serra, said his client tried to protect Araujo and never struck the teenager. Nabors had testified at the preliminary hearing that Cazares tacitly admitted hitting Araujo on the head with a shovel after Araujo was strangled to ensure that the teenager was dead. Serra said that was not true and that he would try to show jurors that Nabors was not credible.