NEWARK — The three men charged with murder in connection with the killing of a 17-year-old boy who sometimes passed as a girl made their first appearance in Alameda Country Superior Court in Fremont Friday, but did not enter pleas.
On Wednesday, law enforcement agents unearthed the body of Edward Araujo of Newark, who had been missing for two weeks, from a gravesite in the El Dorado County wilderness east of Placerville.
In court Friday, murder charges with a special hate-crime enhancement were read aloud to the suspects, Michael William Magidson, 22, of Fremont, and Jose Antonio Merel, 22, of Newark, who stood handcuffed, shackled and outfitted in red jail suits, and Jaron Chase Nabors, 19, of Newark, who was dressed in street clothes and unrestrained.
As Judge Dennis J. McLaughlin pronounced the charges, Jose Merel shook his head, closed his eyes, and then lowered his face, the only visible reaction among the defendants.
A fourth man, Paul Richard Merel, 25, the brother of Jose Merel, was taken into custody Wednesday in connection with Araujo's killing, but has since been released without being charged.
According to police, Araujo was reported missing by his mother, Sylvia Guerrero, Oct. 5 when he failed to return from a late-night party held two days prior at 37147 Saint Matthew Drive, the home of Jose and Paul Merel.
During the party it was discovered that Araujo was actually a boy, prompting a group at the house to fall upon him, beating him and choking him with a rope him until he died, according to an affidavit police used to obtain a search warrant. The affidavit also said that Sylvia Guerrero told police her son was a “cross-dresser” and sometimes went by the names Gwen, Wendy and Lida.
Nabors told police in an interview that Araujo's body was wrapped in a blanket and driven in the back of a pickup truck to the Silver Forks campground in the Sierra foothills where it was buried.
Over the past two weeks investigators had followed leads in the case and interviewed potential witnesses but a break did not come until Wednesday, when Nabors lead detectives to the corpse in El Dorado County.
Araujo was found wearing women's clothing when his body was removed from the grave, the Alameda County coroner said. A preliminary autopsy indicated that he suffered from blunt trauma to his head. Court records stated that Araujo's hands and feet were bound.
In the back row of the courtroom in Fremont Friday, Araujo's aunt, Imelda Guerrero, sat through the short proceeding. Outside of court she described her nephew as a “typical teenager” who loved music and was a big fan of Gwen Stefani, lead singer of the rock group No Doubt.
Guerrero said Araujo's family is focusing now on putting him to rest and burying him with dignity, and she refused to comment her nephew's lifestyle.
She said she is expecting the killers to be held accountable.
“They're going to pay for what they did,” she said.
Nabors' attorney, Robert Beles of Oakland, told reporters that his client is a college student with no violence in his background. He said Nabors is not homophobic.