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Man Pleads Not Guilty in Slaying of Transgender Bay Area Teenager

Two others accused of committing a hate-crime killing do not enter pleas and will return to court Nov. 8.

October 25, 2002|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

FREMONT -- An Alameda County man pleaded not guilty Thursday in the slaying of transgender teenager Eddie "Gwen" Araujo, who will be buried today in this Bay Area community dressed as the woman he wanted and appeared to be.

Jaron Nabors, 19, stood next to his two co-defendants during an arraignment hearing at the Fremont Hall of Justice but denied any wrongdoing in the death of Araujo, a 17-year-old boy who thought of himself as a girl.

Nabors and his friends, Michael Magidson, 22, and Jose Merel, 24, each face a count of murder with a hate-crime enhancement. They are due back in court Nov. 8, when Magidson and Merel are expected to enter pleas.

"As far as my client is concerned, the plea is not guilty to the charge of murder," said Robert Beles, the attorney representing Nabors, adding that his client "adamantly denies" the allegations of a hate crime.

Merel delayed his arraignment because his court-appointed attorney said he needed more time to review the evidence. But during a jailhouse interview with The Times late Wednesday, Merel insisted that he was not guilty. Without elaborating, Merel said he had nothing to do with the crime and he was confident that, once the truth came out, he would be cleared.

"All I know is that I am innocent, and I shouldn't even be in here right now," Merel said. "I should be home with my family."

Magidson, who put off entering a plea because he was still looking for an attorney, said during a separate jailhouse interview that he had been advised by his family not to talk about the case.

"Believe me, I would love to talk about this, but I can't," he said. Asked simply whether he was innocent, Magidson responded: "I can't even say."

The three men are accused of killing Araujo after learning of his biological sex during an Oct. 3 party at Merel's Newark home. Police say Araujo was knocked unconscious, then dragged into the garage, where he was strangled with a rope. His body was found buried in a shallow grave two weeks later and 150 miles away in the Sierra wilderness, dressed in the denim skirt he had worn to the party, his wrists and ankles bound.

The murder has struck a nerve among members of the transgender community and given new momentum to their causes. The legal proceedings have been overshadowed by a series of memorials and other events being planned over the next few weeks by a coalition of national gay and lesbian organizations.

Araujo's mother, Sylvia Guerrero, has retained a high-profile Los Angeles attorney, Gloria Allred, who represented the family of Nicole Brown Simpson and has been honored for her work on behalf of women's rights.

Outside the courthouse Thursday, about two dozen relatives and friends of Araujo wept as they held photographs above their heads, showing the teenager as a smiling young boy in his early years and as the beautiful woman he became. They stood behind Allred as she disputed arguments that the murder had not been a hate crime, and promised to ensure that Araujo did not die in vain.

She said hate crimes "must be of particular concern to the entire community, because it means that a person has been targeted and placed at risk because of his gender and/or sexual orientation, factors over which a person has no control."

Guerrero said she cries every night over Araujo's slaying and does not understand how "anyone else thought they had the right to take the life which I gave him

"I want justice for Eddie because this should never have happened, and I never want it to happen to any other child or any other family," she said.

Araujo will be buried in makeup and women's clothes, Guerrero said, and "Gwen" will be engraved on the headstone. Araujo chose the name because he liked singer Gwen Stefani of the band No Doubt.

There will be a private viewing at Fremont Memorial Mortuary and the public is invited to attend the funeral at St. Edwards Catholic Church in Newark. Allred discouraged anyone who plans to be disruptive from attending.

The Rev. Fred Phelps, who has outspokenly argued that God hates homosexuals, and members of Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, have promised to picket the services.

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