According to alleged murderer Carlos Varela, if his girlfriend Holly Lake had just accepted his attempts to break up with her, she’d still be alive today. That came straight from the murder suspect’s mouth today, Monday, November 13, when Varela took that stand in hopes of swaying the jury into believing that his attack on the former UCSB student last August was a crime of passion rather than premeditation.
Varela was called to the stand at the start of the defense’s case at a little after 10 a.m. Monday morning. His testimony, ushered along by his attorney Steven Balash, described his year-long relationship with Holly as one of much crystal methamphetamine use and plenty of arguments. Varela, who was lucid, well prepared, and dressed in a blue shirt and suit, said, “We did meth pretty much every day” and claimed that he had tried to break up with the 29-year-old Holly about 10 times during the course of their relationship, but that she would always come back to him. He also discussed their various camping and hiking trips, and when presented with photos of the two in nature, confirmed each and every time that meth was involved.
The fighting between the two grew over their relationship, said Varela, who said that the last night he slept with her was August 10, three days before he killed her. “I was tired of the ups and downs,” Varela testified. “I wanted to be able to to trust her but I couldn’t.” After lunch, Balash led Varela into the difficult realm of speaking about the murder itself. Varela, though shaky and teary at times, maintained his composure while admitting to stabbing Lake in the neck three times in a furious rage while she was laying in the reclined passenger chair of her Jaguar. Varela said he did so after returning to Lake’s house in Oxnard after a Sunday night Tom Petty concert down south. Lake was silent the entire ride home, so when they did another line of meth 10 minutes before getting back to Lake’s house, he asked her what the problem was. According to Varela, who other witnesses reported had said that he would kill Holly if he caught her cheating, she then told him she had been sleeping with her ex-boyfriend. That, Varela claimed, threw him into the murderous rage.
After killing Lake in the garage of the house where she’d supported an unemployed Varela for some of the previous year, Varela drove the Jaguar away, thinking, he said, of his mother and how he’d let her down. Varela said he also began harboring the suicidal thoughts that still haunt him to this day.
While trying to dial friends and family on his cell phone, Varela drove north to Carpinteria, where he stopped the car and attempted to move Holly. The car, he said, “reeked of blood.” She was lifeless, so he continued driving north along the backroads, wiping the blood off of the windows with his shirt. He eventually reached Gibraltar Road, the mountain-ascending road he knew from various hiking trips with Lake over the years. His intention was to go to some hot springs in the backcountry and kill himself, but once he reached East Camino Cielo, he realized that he was almost out of gas.
So instead, he yanked Holly Lake’s body out of the Jaguar and rolled it off a small cliff. “I let out a yell too,” he recalled, because he was unhappy at this “occurrence.” He then drove the Jaguar back toward his home in Oxnard, but it ran out of gas near a creek in Carpinteria. There, he got out of the car, did his last line of meth, walked into the creek, and slashed his wrist with the hunting knife he’d used to kill Lake. He heard voices above, so he snuck up to find a parking lot where a van sat untended. He extracted some radiator fluid, poured that on his gaping wrist, and then drove toward his home in Oxnard.
When he noticed his friend’s truck outside, he proceeded to his aunt’s house, where no one was home. Once inside, he continued his suicidal streak, ingesting a bottle of Vicodin and some other pills, taking a shot of tequila, and drinking a beer before drawing the bath of water where he assumed his passed out self would drown. He then recalls being yanked out of the tub and waking up in the hospital with “tubes in my arm.”
When Balash ended his questioning of Varela, prosecutor Josh Lynn went on the offensive against any inkling of the crime of passion defense, which carries a much shorter prison term than the murder charge the state is going for. In between the grisly autopsy photos of Lake’s body, Lynn drew into question why this was a crime of rage if Varela had already been trying to break up with her.
Varela was the defense’s first and final witness. Balash rested his case this afternoon. Closing statements are tomorrow, Tuesday, November 14, in the afternoon.
(With additional reporting by Ethan Stewart.)