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More Told in Teen's Killing

A fourth man is sought in the slaying of a Northern California boy who lived as a girl. A witness describes a drunken party.

October 22, 2002|Christine Hanley and Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writers

NEWARK, Calif. — Authorities are seeking a fourth man in the killing of a 17-year-old boy who lived as a girl until companions discovered his gender at the end of a drunken evening, allegedly strangling the teen they knew as Lida.

"There is a Jason," said Alameda County Deputy Dist. Atty. Theodore T. Landswick. "We will find him."

Two witnesses told police a man named Jason attended the Oct. 3 party that ended with the death of Eddie Araujo. Authorities would not confirm Jason's last name, which appears in police reports. "All I know is our detectives are acting on a tip about a fourth subject who may be involved in this," said Lt. Tom Milner of the Newark Police Department.

Three men are being held without bail in the case: Michael Magidson, 22, of Fremont, and Jaron Chase Nabors, 19, and Jose Merel, 24, both of Newark. They are to be arraigned Thursday on murder charges in the death of Araujo, who disappeared from a party at Merel's house. Nabors led police to Araujo's shallow grave in the El Dorado National Forest on Wednesday, according to authorities.

Araujo had been dressing as a girl for about three years, going by the names Gwen and Lida. About two months ago, friends said, he began visiting the Merel house with Merel, Magidson and Nabors.

Nicole Brown, a friend of Paul Merel, Jose's older brother, described in an interview with The Times what happened the night Araujo died. The evening began, she said, with an impromptu gathering that unfolded in a haze of cigarette smoke and beer.

As the group sat around a table to play dominoes and drink, Brown said, she and her friends still believed Araujo was a girl. But a fight between Brown and Araujo at the Merel house a few weeks earlier, she said, had raised doubts.

Brown, 21, who said she had never lost a fight with another girl, said Araujo surprised her with a powerful blow after Brown challenged Araujo to take off her shirt and perform a striptease for the men who were gathered there.

Brown said she urged Araujo to strip until the two began fighting. The men tried to pull them apart as Brown and Araujo exchanged punches and pulled each other's hair. "They were tripping, because she was smaller than me and just as strong," Brown said. "She fought like a guy."

Brown and Araujo made up after the fight, Brown said, and the night of Oct. 3 began amicably, with lots of chatting and two trips to a 7-Eleven to buy beer and cigarettes. On one of those trips, Brown said, Araujo confided she had crushes on both Magidson and Nabors.

Those two were out at a nightclub along with Jose Merel and the man whom Brown said she knows only as Jason. All four showed at up the Merel house after midnight, she said, and joined the party.

About 3:30 a.m., Brown and Paul Merel were about to go to sleep when Brown heard tense voices from the other room. Brown said that when she walked into the kitchen, she saw the men confronting Araujo.

"Are you a man?" Brown recalled them saying. "Are you a man?"

Araujo did not respond. Brown said she called out: "Why don't one of you guys find out?"

Magidson then accompanied Araujo to the bathroom.

While the two were gone, Brown said, the others told her some of them had had sex with Lida. Brown said she tried to reassure the men that Araujo "was definitely a woman."

After half an hour, Magidson and Araujo were still in the bathroom, so Brown said she decided to go in. Araujo was sitting on the sink and appeared to be very drunk. He didn't answer Brown's questions. "I opened her legs," Brown said.

Then, Brown recalled screaming: "It's a man! Oh my God!"

Jose Merel began sobbing, Brown said, and stayed near the bathroom. Magidson, Nabors and Jason went outside to smoke cigarettes.

Brown said she began pleading with Jose Merel to let the evening end peacefully.

"I said, 'Let her go. Let her walk out that door,' " Brown recalled.

Then Brown said she turned to Araujo and told him, "You better run as fast as you can."

Araujo left the bathroom and headed toward the front door, Brown said. Moments later he was back, followed by Magidson, Nabors and Jason.

Nabors later told police he had prevented Araujo from leaving the house, according to court records. Magidson then grabbed Araujo and wrestled him to the ground, Brown said.

"He was lying on top of her, talking to her," Brown said, adding that she could not hear what he was saying.

"When I knew at that point they were so angry I couldn't stop it, that's when I left," she said. "I know Paul and Jose, and I know they wouldn't do anything. But I didn't know those other guys that well. I was scared."

She ran back into Paul Merel's room and got him up to leave. She said that because he is on probation, he did not want to be involved in any trouble. She was also afraid, she said, because she has two children of her own. The two left to drive the 25 miles to Brown's apartment in Livermore, she said.

Authorities say they are still trying to find out exactly what happened next.

Nabors told police Araujo was beaten, then Jose Merel and Magidson dragged Araujo into the garage, tied a rope around his neck and strangled him. Then they wrapped Araujo's body, put him in the back of Magidson's truck and drove 150 miles to the Sierra Nevada to bury him, according to Nabors' statement to police.

Merel's mother, Wanda, said her son told her he had nothing to do with the killing and was willing to take a lie detector test.

Brown said that the day after the party, she asked Paul Merel what had happened. She recalled that he told her his brother said: "Let's just say she had a long walk home."

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