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Tuesday, May 9, 2000

Vargas murder
defendant: I didn’t
harm her

Jury is expected to begin
deliberations in the Big Isle
teen-ager's 1993 death

By Rod Thompson


HILO -- Jurors were expected to begin deliberating in the case of Sequoya Vargas murder suspect Richard Damian Serrano today, following his testimony yesterday that he didn't kill the 16-year-old high school girl.

"No sir, I didn't harm her in any way," Serrano said in answer to a question from his lawyer.

Two other men, Jason McCubbins, 27, and Matthew Gibbs, 26, made plea agreements with the prosecution and testified earlier that they joined Serrano in attacking Vargas on Aug. 22, 1993.

The three of them took part in getting her drunk, raping and beating her, then throwing her body over a sea cliff, they said. She was never found.

Yesterday, Serrano gave the court the same description of events that jurors heard last week when a 1993 tape recording was played for them of Serrano being interviewed by a California police detective.

Serrano met Vargas when he picked her up hitchhiking in the Puna District about sundown, he said. He invited her to the home of McCubbins, his cousin. After about an hour and a few beers, they drove to Pahoa, smoked marijuana, then drove on toward Opihikao.

On the road, Vargas recognized some friends in an oncoming truck, told Serrano to stop, and she left with the friends, he said. The time was about 9 or 9:30 p.m.

He went home to his aunt's house and went to sleep, he said.

On cross-examination, Deputy Prosecutor Jack Matsukawa asked how Vargas could have recognized oncoming headlights in the dark as those of a vehicle with her friends.

"That's what she said," Serrano answered.

In closing, Matsukawa reminded jurors that Vargas' blood was found at McCubbin's house.

"He doesn't explain how Sequoya Vargas gets back somehow to the residence of Jason McCubbins," Matsukawa said.

"Why would she go back anyway? How is she going to find the residence?"

Attorney Eliason dismissed the gap in the story. "He just was not involved," Eliason said.

He proposed a reason why McCubbins and Gibbs attacked Vargas. Both testified they drank a lot of alcohol and were unable to have sex with her. Their frustration turned to anger, he suggested. No physical evidence links Serrano to the crime, he said.

Matsukawa replied that Eliason was putting up a smoke screen. "He's asking you to speculate," Matsukawa said. "Testimonial evidence" shows Serrano led the attack, he said.

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