Fundamentalists come from Kansas to protest Araujo trial

Group plans to spread anti-gay message outside Hayward courthouse

Oakland Tribune/April 18, 2004
By Ben Aguirre Jr.

Hayward -- Less than a week after opening statements began in the trial of three men charged with the murder of a Newark transgender teenager, members of a fundamentalist Baptist church say they will be picketing outside the county courthouse Monday.

Members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., said they would be spreading their message -- that homosexuality isn't the will of God -- in front of the Hayward Hall of Justice, where the three men are on trial.

Michael Magidson, 23, of Fremont, and Newark residents Jose Merel and Jason Cazares, both 24, are charged with the murder of the 17-year-old who was born Eddie Araujobut was living as a female named Gwen at the time of the slaying.

Opening statements began Wednesday with a prosecutor describing in detail the violent killing of Araujo, who was beaten, strangled and buried in a shallow grave during the early morning hours of Oct. 4, 2002.

A fourth man, Jaron Nabors, 20, originally was arrested and charged with the other men. However, Nabors last year agreed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter in exchange for his testimony against the three men.

On Monday, as the trial of the three men inside the courtroom continues, members of the Baptist church say they plan to hold a rally beginning at noon.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a member of the church, said an undisclosed number of members, likely less than 10, want to spread their message.

"There is a God, there is a Judgment Day, and it's not OK to be gay," she said.

Calls to numerous gay rights agencies in the East Bay were not immediately returned.

It will not be the first time the church has ventured into the area to protest homosexuality.

In October 2002, about the same time as Araujo's funeral, the group protested "The Laramie Project," a play put on by Newark Memorial High School students. The play deals with the aftermath of the 1998 murder of Laramie, Wyo., resident Matthew Shepard, who was killed because he was gay.

The church came to the Tri-City area at that time only to protest the play and not to disrupt Araujo's funeral, Phelps-Roper said -- adding that she regrets that they didn't.

Local law enforcement agencies said they are aware of the protest and are prepared to take action if things get out of hand.

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