Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Court affirms conviction
in ’93 murder of girl, 16

Star-Bulletin staff

The Hawaii Supreme Court has affirmed the conviction of Damien Serrano in the 1993 rape and murder of 16-year-old Sequoya Vargas on the Big Island.

Serrano was sentenced in June 2000 for raping, beating, and throwing Vargas over a cliff, then dragging her out to sea to drown in August 1993.

Serrano appealed the conviction on several grounds, arguing that the judge should have declared a mistrial after an unknown man made disparaging remarks to the jury during deliberations and the judge should have suppressed statements he made to a police officer. He also said the judge should have granted a new trial because of new evidence.

Late last month the justices ruled that the remarks made to the jury were harmless and did not affect their deliberations, that Serrano was not in custody when he made the remarks to the police officer and that the new testimony was either harmless or would only be offered for impeachment purposes and would not change the outcome of the trial.

Serrano, 30, was sentenced to two consecutive life terms for murder and kidnapping and two consecutive 10-year terms for third-degree sexual assault, said Big Island Deputy Prosecutor Jack Matsukawa.

However, the Hawaii Paroling Authority ordered Serrano to serve a minimum 120 years -- 50 years each for the kidnapping and murder and 10 each for the two sexual assaults -- before he can seek parole.

Two other men implicated in Vargas' disappearance also were convicted. They are Jason McCubbins, Serrano's cousin, and Matthew Gibbs.

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