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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fort Bragg man shot and killed during dispute

4-7-2010 California:

A Fort Bragg man was shot and killed Sunday night after an argument at his rural trailer on Sherwood Road, according to Mendocino County sheriff’s authorities.

The suspect, Aaron Joseph Vargas, 31, allegedly shot 63-year-old Darrell Rae McNeill once with a large caliber handgun at about 8 p.m.

After waiting until he knew McNeill was dead, Vargas took apart the gun, a ball and powder pistol, left it on the counter and left, a witness told deputies.

The witness was not threatened or harmed, authorities said.

Vargas reportedly was angry about an unspecified abuse case that had occurred years earlier, sheriff’s authorities said.

He was arrested without incident at a relative’s home following the shooting, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The case remains under investigation. ..Source.. by GLENDA ANDERSON, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT


Vargas pleads no contest to killing

4-7-2010 California:

A 32-year-old Fort Bragg man who was charged with murder in a February 2009 shooting pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in the Superior Court of Mendocino County Tuesday afternoon.

Aaron Joseph Vargas was arrested on suspicion of shooting Darrell Rae McNeill, 63, and then holding McNeill's wife hostage until McNeill died. The case has received broad media attention due to claims that McNeill had molested Vargas and others in the community.

Vargas may be sentenced to 10 years in state prison or probation, said Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Norman.

"If he were to violate probation he could be sentenced to 21 years in state prison," Norman said. Vargas' attorney, Tom Hudson, told Judge Ronald Brown that he wants probation for Vargas.

"It is our position that Mr. Vargas, having spent a little over a year in custody, would make a strong probation candidate," Hudson said.

Brown stated that Vargas did not have a criminal record, the factor of Vargas' post traumatic stress and that questions remained about the facts of the case.

"In general," Brown said, "the community, Ten Mile and Fort Bragg have been supportive of Mr. Vargas."

Norman said a no-contest plea and the mid-sentence of 10 years seemed to be a fair resolution to the case. Both the District Attorney's Office and Hudson received letters about the case.

Correspondence included numerous options of what the criminal justice system could do, Hudson said. "It is a case that generated a lot of feeling and thought," he said.
A preliminary hearing last April included testimony from Vargas' fiancee, Selena Barnet. She said that McNeill called Vargas continually and had stopped by the couple's home.

Vargas shot McNeill during a confrontation at McNeill's fifth-wheel trailer, according to testimony at the preliminary hearing.

After Vargas' plea was entered, a press conference was held in front of the courthouse, with TV crews from out-of-the-area taping interviews with those close to the case.

In talks with the media afterwards, Norman said she had received multiple letters from people who stated that McNeill had molested them.

"I received letters from three men and a woman who claimed they had been molested by Mr. McNeill," Norman said. The letters, some from people who had never met Vargas, stated what it is like to be a victim of molestation, she said.

Vargas' sister and his mother said that they are hoping Vargas gets a probation sentence. Robin Vargas, Vargas' mother, said she is feeling some relief in contrast to where the case was one week ago.

Mindy Galliani, Vargas' sister, said after Tuesday's hearing that she will be pleased when her brother returns home.

A hearing to establish the facts of the case before it goes to the Probation Department is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. April 20 in courtroom B at the Ukiah courthouse. ..Source.. ZACK CINEK The Daily Journal


INSIDE STORY: Molestation Victim Who Killed His Alleged Tormentor

After Aaron Vargas endured years of sexual abuse, it seemed inevitable that something would finally have to give. One night in February 2009, he downed beers and vodka, drove to a mobile home in Fort Bragg, Calif., and shot the man he says was his tormentor once in the chest.

"You're not going to hurt anyone again," Vargas, 32, allegedly said as 63-year-old Darrell McNeill lay dying.

The fatal shooting in the quaint town flanked by redwood forests and spectacular coastal views has sparked a debate over whether Vargas should be treated like a hero for killing a man who many, including his own family, considered a danger to children, or a criminal for allegedly taking the law into his own hands.

Initially charged with murder, Vargas's attorney Tom Hudson contends the gun went off by accident during a scuffle, although his client got too drunk to remember. Prosecutors earlier this month agreed to a plea deal for voluntary manslaughter. They cited evidence that McNeill had molested Vargas as far back as when Vargas was 11 years old, along with Vargas's clean record and the sentiments of McNeill's family, who have come out in support of Vargas.

Petition of Support

But Vargas can still get anywhere from probation to 10 years in prison at the sentencing hearing, which starts June 14 in Mendocino County Superior Court.

"That boy should be out right now – time served – and should get an award for what he did," says Richard Masingale, 51, of Fort Bragg, who claims his brother was another molestation victim of McNeill's. Masingale says his brother had contemplated shooting McNeill four years ago – but killed himself instead.

Vargas's supporters have collected thousands of signatures for a petition saying he has suffered enough and deserves leniency. Supporters also have rallied in the streets of Fort Bragg, Calif., shouting "Free Aaron," and "End the Silence," and carrying signs saying things like "It is time for justice for all the many victims."

Other Victims

Vargas says he was first molested by McNeill during a fishing trip. His family says McNeill continued to abuse him as a kid, and stalked and harassed Vargas as an adult. Vargas tried to stay away from McNeill, at times even moving to other states, but family and relationships kept bringing him back. In 2008, family members say, the stalking got worse, with McNeill calling Vargas a dozen times a day and showing up at his doorstep with a handful of diapers, offering to babysit Vargas's newborn daughter, Rosie.

About a dozen people have now come forward to say they, too, were molested by McNeill, and they're glad he won't hurt anyone else. McNeill's family doesn't dispute that McNeill was a child molester. His second wife filed a police report after her divorce, complaining McNeill molested her son, but she said police took no action because the case was too old.

Despite police complaints over the years, McNeill was never arrested or charged. Authorities now say that, in each case, either the alleged victim couldn't be located or the statute of limitations had expired.

Family Supports Him

McNeill's third wife, Elizabeth, who witnessed the shooting, went so far as to attend the first fund-raiser for Aaron's defense.

"I do believe that something having to do with Aaron's childhood sexual abuse caused Aaron to snap, and do what he did," Elizabeth wrote in a letter to prosecutors.

Assistant Mendocino County District Attorney Beth Norman says her office hasn't yet decided what sentence to recommend – but she's glad that the case has ended with a felony conviction, which should send the message that "violence is not the answer." ..Source.. by Howard Breuer


Supporters say Vargas has suffered enough

6-14-2010 California:

Fort Bragg man who killed his molester could face 10-year prison sentence

People wearing “Free Aaron” buttons packed a sentencing hearing in Mendocino County Superior Court Monday to seek leniency for a Fort Bragg man who killed the man he says molested him.

Family, friends and even some strangers attended the hearing in Ukiah to demonstrate their belief that Aaron Vargas is the victim in the case, not Darrell McNeill, 63, whom Vargas shot in February 2009.

The sentencing hearing is expected to conclude Tuesday.

Vargas, 32, who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.

His supporters believe he has suffered enough.

“I think he should go free,” said Danielle Hruby of Cloverdale, a friend and family member. “He's the victim.”

“I could be Aaron Vargas,” said Carol Martino, a Santa Rosa resident who said she attended the hearing because she is a survivor of sexual abuse.

Vargas has said McNeill began molesting him while on a fishing trip when he was 11 years old, and the abuse continued sporadically through adulthood. McNeill was a family friend who lived next door.

On Monday two other men testified they had been molested by McNeill.

McNeill's stepson, John Clemons, said he was a victim. He said his stepbrother started having latent memories of being molested by his father, and the three men shared their experiences for the first time a few days before Vargas shot McNeill.

At least a half dozen men have come forward since the shooting to say they had been molested by McNeill when they were children.

One of McNeill's victims made a police report in 2001, but the statue of limitations had expired, authorities said. A woman also reportedly went to police with suspicions about McNeill but walked out in frustration when told it had been too long since the incident to prosecute.

Clemons said police reports were made, but nothing happened. “The system failed,” he told the others that night.

Vargas' fiancee, Selena Barnett, testified Vargas was especially agitated after the meeting with McNeill's sons. She said the night of the shooting, he was pacing and consuming alcohol to the point of intoxication.

Barnett said Vargas never spoke to her about the abuse, but he mentioned a sexual encounter with McNeill that occurred in 2006. As time went on, she guessed the truth.

She noticed that Vargas went on drinking binges when McNeill came around and called. She told McNeill to leave them alone and changed her phone number, but McNeill continued to harass them. He called frequently, stopped by and offered to baby-sit their infant daughter.

Barnett said she didn't know that Vargas had continued to work odd jobs for McNeill.

McNeill's widow testified about the night of the fatal shooting. Liz McNeill said her husband was standing in the open doorway of their trailer when he was shot. Vargas came inside and told her not to phone for help.

She said it took about 15 minutes for her husband to die from being shot with a .44 caliber cap and ball pistol.

The bullet entered his upper abdomen, piercing his diaphragm, liver, stomach and aorta before stopping at his spine, according to testimony from forensic pathologist Dr. Jason Trent. He estimated it took between five and 20 minutes for McNeill to die.

As McNeill lay on the floor dying, Vargas swore at him and kicked him, said Assistant District Attorney Beth Norman.

The defense on Monday portrayed Vargas as harmless to anyone other than McNeill. His family said he hadn't intended to kill McNeill, only scare him away.

Norman countered that Vargas had been violent in the past. He choked his fiancee, took out his frustrations on property and fought with another inmate in jail, according to testimony. He also had several arrests for driving under the influence.

Psychologist Kevin Kelly said he would not expect Vargas to be a danger to anyone else as long as he received counseling and treatment for depression, post traumatic stress and substance abuse.

“He has treatable problems,” Kelly said. ..Source.. by GLENDA ANDERSON, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

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