TV & Radio
Accused killer was 'disgusted' that transgender teen was male
- Kelly St. John, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
(07-26) 12:22 PDT Hayward (SF Chronicle) -- One of three men accused of killing a 17-year-old Newark transgender nearly three years ago testified today that he participated in the attack after learning that Gwen Araujo was not the woman he thought he'd had sex with.
Testifying for the first time at his retrial on murder charges, Jose Merel, 25, said he was disgusted when friends at a party revealed that Araujo, who called herself Lida and with whom Merel had previously had anal sex, was biologically male.
"It's hard to explain," Merel said in a Hayward courtroom of the way he felt on Oct. 3, 2003. "Your whole life you think you're a heterosexual. Then you get pleasure from a homosexual. It disgusted me."
Merel did not testify at the first trial, which ended in June 2004 with the jury deadlocked on charges against him and two other men, Michael Magidson and Jason Cazares, both 25. The case, and the mistrial, outraged the transgender community.
The retrial began last month.
Wearing glasses and a white T-shirt in court today, Merel said he started crying when a woman at the party at his home blurted out that Araujo had male genitalia.
"Emotionally, I was crushed," he said, his voice hardly audible. When the two had met months before, Merel said, he thought "Lida" was "very attractive."
"I thought it was impossible to derive pleasure from a man unless you were gay," he said. "I was having serious questions about my sexuality."
Merel then grew angry, slapping Araujo twice as others punched her and pushed her up against a wall. He then went into the kitchen, he said, grabbed a tin can and tried to scare Araujo with it. He then picked up a frying pan and hit her in the head, he said.
Prosecutors say Magidson pulled a rope toward Araujo's neck after she had been tied up, and the accused killers buried Araujo's body in El Dorado National Forest.
Araujo's killing came as Newark Memorial High School prepared a performance of "The Laramie Project," a play about the 1998 killing of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., where he was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die.
E-mail Kelly St. John at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on Tue, Jul. 26, 2005
Defendant says he found transgender teen attractive
JOSE MEREL DENIES HE PLANNED TO KILL GWEN ARAUJO
By Yomi S. Wronge
San Jose Mercury News
Jose Merel took the stand in his own defense today, speaking out for the first time about his version of events the night Gwen Araujo was killed.
Merel, 25, testified he found the victim, a transgender teenager who was born with male anatomy, very attractive.
``She was kind of wild, I guess you would say she wasn't shy,'' Merel said.
A short time after meeting Gwen in the fall of 2002, Merel testified that he had sex with her and found the experience satisfying. He is the only defendant to admit warm feelings for the victim.
Although the question of her biological sex arose sometime before the killing in October of that same year, Merel said it was not a hot topic among his friends. That contradicted other witnesses who have testified that Merel, his childhood friends Michael Magidson and Jason Cazares, and Jaron Nabors were on a mission to find out the truth.
Merel, Magidson and Cazares are on trial for the killing. Nabors agreed to a plea deal and has testified against the other three.
Merel said during the early morning hours of Oct. 4, 2002, ``I was trying to be funny'' and obnoxious when he began questioning Gwen about her gender and on insistance on only having anal sex.
Gwen was being very vague abouther answers, Merel said. ``I would think any woman would curse you out or slap you across the face.'' but Gwen didn't do that and that's when Merel said he first feared that the girl he had been intimate with was a man.
A short time later, when the group of friends that Gwen had male genitalia, Merel said he vomited and burst into tears.
``I think I was going through some kind of identity crisis because I seriously thought I was gay,'' Merel said. ``Your whole life you believe you are a heterosexual and you find out you've been pleasured by a man. It disgusted me . . . Emotionally I was crushed.''
But Merel said he didn't want to kill her.
Merel's testimony is continuing today in a Hayward courtroom.
Contact Yomi S. Wronge at email@example.com or (408) 920-5744.