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Friday, May 12, 2000

Big Isle man
guilty in murder
of Sequoya Varga

The 16-year-old girl was
kidnapped, sexually assaulted
and murdered

By Rod Thompson
Big Island correspondent


HILO -- A Big Island jury has found Richard Damian Serrano guilty of murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault in the 1993 death of Sequoya Vargas.

Serrano, 29, dropped his head when the guilty verdict was read yesterday. He had a pained expression as he was led from the courtroom by guards.

Judge Riki May Amano set sentencing for June 20. Serrano's attorney, Harry Eliason, said he'll have to consult with Serrano before considering an appeal.

Serrano was accused of being the leader of three men who attacked Vargas, 16, on the evening of Aug. 22, 1993, at his cousin's home in the Puna District.

Serrano testified that he met Vargas when he picked her up hitchhiking that evening.

He said he took her to the home of his cousin, Jason McCubbins, then 20. At the house with McCubbins was Matthew Gibbs, then 19.

Serrano, testifying in his own defense, said they drank beer for a while, then he dropped Vargas off with friends on a country road.

McCubbins, who got a plea deal, testified that Vargas drank beer and hard liquor, which Serrano laced with cough medicine. When Vargas passed out, Serrano repeatedly had sex with her, McCubbins said.

When she awoke, he slammed her head against a wall, dragged her to a car, drove her to the ocean, swam out to sea with her and left her to die.

Gibbs gave a similar account. He also got a plea deal.

Vargas' blood, confirmed by DNA, was found at McCubbin's house.

According to the date on a verdict form read yesterday, jurors found Serrano guilty of kidnapping on Tuesday, the first day of their deliberations.

They needed two more days to decide on the murder and two sexual-assault charges.

The delay on those charges may have been because of "lesser included" charges.

The jury had the option of finding Serrano not guilty of murder, but guilty of the "lesser included" offense of manslaughter.

They didn't do so.

Serrano was also charged with second-degree sexual assault, which involves sexual penetration. Jurors rejected that charge, instead finding Serrano guilty of a lesser included third-degree charge, involving sexual touching.

They also found Serrano guilty of a second count of third-degree sexual assault.

Murder carries a sentence of life with possible parole. Kidnapping brings 20 years. Third-degree sexual assault brings five years.

Deputy Prosecutor Michael Kagami said Judge Riki May Amano could order the sentences to be served back to back. And they may be "extended," or doubled, because more than one felony was committed, he said.

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