Thursday, September 9, 1999

Man pleads not guilty
in Big Isle girl’s death

By Rod Thompson


HILO -- After murder suspect Richard Damian Serrano discussed his case with Judge Riki May Amano, his attorney entered not guilty pleas to charges of sexual assault, kidnapping and murder in the 1993 death of 16-year-old Sequoya Vargas.

Info Box Serrano was arraigned yesterday after being returned to the Big Island from Guadalajara, Mexico, where he surrendered to the FBI. He had been wanted since an indictment against him in 1995.

Court documents indicate Serrano picked Vargas up hitchhiking in the Big Island's Puna District.

Vargas got drunk with him and two other men, and they raped her after she passed out, the documents say. When she awoke, they beat her and dumped her over a sea cliff. She was never found.

The small, thin Serrano, with hair cut short and clean shaven except for a hint of a mustache, appeared in court yesterday wearing a white shirt and white jeans. He asked if he was allowed to speak directly to the judge.

All of his comments were made quietly, and frequently in complete sentences, unlike many defendants who give only yes and no answers to questions.

Although attorney Harry Eliason represented him, Serrano asked why proceedings couldn't be delayed until his preferred attorney, Andre Wooten of Honolulu, was present. Amano said that Wooten could be substituted later.

Amano settled on April 17 for a four-week trial for Serrano.

Listening to it all in court were Vargas' brother, Sundance Vargas, and sister, Dove Johnson.

Johnson later said Serrano's arrest brought relief to the family. "It's the best news I've had in six years, that phone call yesterday morning. I was like, yay!" she said.

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