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Tuesday, May 2, 2000

distorting own role
in murder

By Rod Thompson


HILO -- Is murder trial witness Jason McCubbins correcting misunderstandings by police, or is he lying about the death of Sequoya Vargas?

The opposing views emerged as McCubbins was cross-examined yesterday in the trial of Richard Damian Serrano.

Serrano, 29, is accused of sexual assault, kidnapping and murder in the 1993 death of the 16-year-old high school girl.

McCubbins, 27, and Matthew Gibbs, 26, confessed to participating in the attack. They say Serrano was the leader.

Defense attorney Harry Eliason says only McCubbins and Gibbs are guilty. They're falsely accusing Serrano to get leniency from prosecutors, he suggested to the jury.

McCubbins testified last week he saw Gibbs stab at the mattress where Vargas lay unconscious but did not see blood until later, after he and Gibbs left Vargas alone with Serrano. The implication was that Serrano caused Vargas' bleeding.

However, Eliason said a police report on a statement by McCubbins said McCubbins saw blood while Gibbs was stabbing at the mattress. The implication was that Gibbs caused Vargas' bleeding.

McCubbins testified he didn't say that to the officer, and the officer didn't give him a chance to correct the written report.

"Maybe he misinterpreted what I said," McCubbins said.

Eliason asked Lt. Glenn Nojiri about another discrepancy between a police report and McCubbins' courtroom testimony. Nojiri answered that if McCubbins denies saying the things in the report, he's lying.

Further clarification -- or further discrepancies -- could be provided by Gibbs, who is scheduled to testify today.

But Gibbs underwent oral surgery yesterday, and may not be well enough to testify yet, prosecutors told Judge Riki May Amano.

Vargas' body was never found. McCubbins testified last week he saw Serrano swim with her body out to sea and then abandon her.

With no body, police initially classified the case as a missing person.

Vargas' uncle Brad Simone testified yesterday that the family organized a private search for her with up to 350 people. Following a lead, Simone questioned McCubbins at his house. McCubbins was shaking as they talked.

McCubbins said he told Simone a prepared cover story, that Vargas had been at the house briefly, but left with Serrano.

Simone also testified that Gibbs came to his house, seeming scared.

Gibbs' father was with him, seeming angry, Simone said. "I don't know why. I didn't see any reason for him to be acting that way."

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