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Prosecutor: Transgender teen executed

Thursday, April 15, 2004 Posted: 8:01 AM EDT (1201 GMT)

HAYWARD, California (AP) -- Prosecutors are presenting the slaying of a transgender teen as an "execution" by young men whipped into a fury by a deception that gnawed at their tender egos.

"They decided ... that the wages of Eddie Araujo's sin of deception were death," prosecutor Chris Lamiero said as the trial got under way Wednesday.

Araujo, 17, was beaten and strangled in 2002 in a slaying that has drawn national attention to violence against transgender people, or those who believe their sexual identity is at odds with their biology.

Angry shouts of "Are you a woman or a man?" escalated to murder, fueled by the explosive combination of insecurity and "tough guy" personas, the prosecutor said.

"Make no mistake about it, Eddie's death was an execution," said Lamiero, who used female pronouns when referring to Araujo as "Gwen" or "Lida," the names she went by, but male pronouns when talking about Araujo as a victim.

On trial are Michael Magidson, 23, and Jose Merel and Jason Cazares, both 24. A fourth man, 20-year-old Jaron Nabors, was charged with murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter and has been promised an 11-year prison sentence in exchange for testifying against the others.

It was Nabors who led police to Araujo's body in a shallow grave near Lake Tahoe.

At a preliminary hearing last year, Nabors described how the teen 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 with her, often hanging out at Merel's house in Newark, a San Francisco suburb.

But suspicions about her gender arose, and Merel and Magidson, who had both had sex with Araujo, began to compare notes, setting the stage for the showdown at Merel's house on October 3, authorities said.

Attorneys for Magidson and Merel have suggested their clients may have acted in the heat of passion, which would support a manslaughter charge instead of murder. Cazares' attorney has said he may have helped bury the body but was not part of the killing.

Attorney Tony Serra said Cazares' cooperation in the burial was out of loyalty. "He couldn't say no to his friends. They were like brothers," Serra said in his opening statement. He said his client will testify on his own behalf.

Court adjourned before lawyers for the other two defendants could speak. The trial was to continue Thursday.

On Wednesday, Lamiero showed jurors a picture of Araujo, long blond hair, to show that "Eddie made a very beautiful woman." The three defendants looked clean-cut in court, with short hair and dark jackets.

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