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Friday, April 28, 2000

Jury is told
victim ‘screamed
for God and mom’

A key witness describes
the rape and brutalizing of
Sequoya Vargas, 16

By Rod Thompson
Big Island correspondent


HILO -- Raped repeatedly, then thrown over a sea cliff where she lay on rocks washed by moonlit waves, Sequoya Vargas, 16, screamed in pain.

That's how a key prosecution witness described the last moments of Vargas' life as testimony got under way yesterday in the trial of Richard Damian Serrano. "I heard her scream," said Jason McCubbins, who has already pleaded no contest to his involvement in the crime. "She screamed for God and for her mom."

Serrano, 29, is accused of murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in the Aug. 22, 1993, attack on Vargas. A jury is hearing the trial in Circuit Court here.

Serrano insisted on returning to the Puna coast where he, McCubbins and another man, Matthew Gibbs, dumped her after she was raped, McCubbins said. "He (Serrano) told us he wanted to make sure she was dead."

McCubbins, threatened by Serrano, climbed down the sea cliff and found Vargas on rocks, groaning, he said.

Deputy Prosecutor Jack Matsukawa asked what happened next. The boyish, redheaded McCubbins responded with a combination of a grin and a grimace, "Damian had sex with her again."

He said Serrano grabbed Vargas by the hair and slammed her head against a rock, then dragged her by the hair into the water, but waves washed her onshore. Serrano, a surfer, swam with her out past the breakers, he testified.

Jessica Klinker Hennessy, 17 at the time, testified she and Vargas were picked up hitchhiking by a man calling himself Damian. Hennessy went home, but Vargas went with "Damian."

Hennessy also testified police wrote an inaccurate report on what she said.

McCubbins, Serrano's cousin, said he, Serrano, Gibbs, and Vargas began drinking at his house.

Serrano added prescription cough medicine, meant for McCubbins' stepson, to Vargas' drinks, McCubbins said.

When she passed out, Serrano stripped her, then had sex with her. Gibbs also had sex with her. McCubbins couldn't. "I would have done it. I tried," he said.

When Vargas started to wake up, Serrano slammed her head against the wall, knocking a hole in it. Then Serrano had sex with her again, McCubbins said.

Gibbs used a knife to stab holes in the mattress where Vargas lay, then cut his hand, McCubbins continued.

Serrano dragged Vargas by her hair to a car trunk. She was groaning, and McCubbins hit her. "My cousin told me to," he said.

McCubbins told the story with a strained, downcast face.

During opening arguments Wednesday, defense attorney Harry Eliason told jurors that McCubbins made up Serrano's involvement to get a reduced sentence.

In 1996, McCubbins pleaded no contest to manslaughter and kidnapping and Gibbs pleaded no contest to sexual assault. Their sentencing was postponed several times until they could testify against Serrano, who had been a fugitive for several years until he was found in Mexico last year and returned to Hawaii.

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