Sunday, April 11, 2010

Molest victim shoots attacker, pleads guilty to voluntary manslaughter

A Fort Bragg, CA man who shot his alleged molester pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter April 6 in a case where he is considered a folk hero. 32 year old Aaron Vargas, allegedly victimized from ages 11 to 28 by his former next-door neighbor, faces a maximum of a decade in prison for shooting 63 year old Darrell McNeill in February 2009.

He told [his family] McNeill began molesting him while they were on a fishing trip when Vargas was 11 years old. McNeill continued to psychologically harass Vargas into adulthood, the Vargas family said.

McNeill would drop by the house Vargas shared with his fiancee at all hours, call frequently and ask to baby-sit Vargas’ newborn daughter, his sister [Mindy Galliani] said. Galliani believes her brother snapped on the night he drove to NcNeill’s home outside of Fort Bragg carrying a .44 caliber cap and ball pistol.

The men argued and Vargas shot McNeill once in the chest, then stayed at the home for 20 minutes to make sure he was dead, preventing Liz McNeill from phoning for help, law enforcement officers said. After the shooting, Vargas disassembled the gun and divulged his accusations for the first time.

Liz McNeill and her sons have written letters urging Humboldt County, CA prosecutors to charge Vargas with lesser charges that murder, and according to Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Norman and Vargas’ attorney, Tom Hudson. Three men and a woman contacted the DA's office alleging molestation by McNeill, and Norman said the plea agreement was “a fair resolution in light of all the facts.”

Vargas has became a celebrity of sorts since his arrest immediately after the killing. His sister’s unflagging outreach efforts garnered nationwide media attention and support from the Fort Bragg community and beyond for Vargas, who many consider to be the victim in this case.

More than 2,000 people signed an online petition seeking a reduction in the charges or dismissal of the case. A dozen people claim McNeill also molested them, said Vargas’ sister, Mindy Galliani.

Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Ron Brown took into account the plea of the victim's family in accepting the plea agreement, but not the public support for Vargas, shown by a petition urging charges be dropped. “That is the reason we’re not guided by public opinion,” Judge Brown said.

Brown will sentence Vargas after an April 20 stipulated facts hearing. There is a chance that Vargas can be sentenced to more than 10 years by Judge Brown. Voluntary manslaughter carries a 21 year maximum sentence, and Vargas can retract his plea if Brown sentences him to 10-21 years.

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