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Fort Bragg man who killed his alleged molester gets 9 years

A plea deal could have freed Aaron Vargas, 32, on probation in the 2009 shooting death of Darrell McNeill, 63, but the judge disagreed. Residents of the small community had risen up in support of Vargas.

June 16, 2010|By Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times

Declaring that the legal system should be allowed to do its job, Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Ron Brown sentenced Aaron Vargas to nine years in prison Tuesday for shooting to death the man who began molesting him when he was 11.

Vargas, 32, was originally charged with murder for shooting Darrell McNeill, 63, to death in McNeill's Fort Bragg trailer in front of the man's horrified wife. He faced 50 years to life in prison for the Feb. 8, 2009, crime.

Then other victims began to come forward alleging that McNeill had also molested them or tried to, including McNeill's stepson. And residents of the struggling former logging town rose up to support Vargas, attending rallies and spaghetti dinners to raise money for his defense.

In April, Vargas pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in an agreement that would cap his prison sentence at 10 years — but could have let him go free on probation.

After two days of emotional testimony in a packed Ukiah courtroom, Brown said the legal system could not condone Vargas' conduct, recounted Assistant Dist. Atty. Elizabeth Norman, and that "a grant of probation was a stamp of approval" for vigilante justice.

"The judge talked about the importance of the legal system and the importance of a trial," said Norman, who prosecuted the case and asked Brown to sentence Vargas to the full 10 years.

"He then talked about the fact that he as a judge had sentenced many men to prison for child molestation," Norman said. "By shooting Darrell McNeill, Aaron Vargas denied the victims the opportunity to come forward and prosecute Darrell McNeill for what had happened to them."

Norman called Brown's reasoning "amazing," but it wasn't what she had argued. While Vargas was in jail awaiting trial and then sentencing, he intervened in a fight, she said.

During the sentencing hearing, "I asked him, 'Why didn't you call the sheriff?' " she recounted. "He said, 'You don't do that while you're in jail.' He continues to see himself as a judge and executioner.... I felt he still presented a risk to the community."

A probation officer recommended to the judge Tuesday that Vargas be sentenced to 21 years in prison — the maximum term for voluntary manslaughter in which a gun is used.

The probation officer "said that his theory was that Aaron had an adult consensual relationship with Darrell, and that Aaron killed him to cover up the sexual relationship," recounted Mindy Galliani, Vargas' sister.

Galliani, who had hoped that her brother would be sentenced to probation and released, was furious that anyone would think a victim could have a consensual relationship with the man who raped him.

The probation officer, she said, "should lose his job. It's ignorant and insulting and dangerous to have someone with that mindset in that position."

Galliani, who has advocated for Vargas since his arrest, said the family might ask Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to intercede. Short of that, she said, "we have to see if we can get someone in there to give him counseling. He wants it and he needs it."

maria.laganga@latimes.com

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