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LAW AND DISORDER


It took a jury little more than four hours to find Carlos Varela guilty of the stabbing murder of his former girlfriend and UCSB graduate Holly Lake. Varela, 26, faces 26 years to life in a state prison. The verdict came after six emotionally charged days of testimony, including sordid details of the couples’ crystal meth use, Varela’s bone chilling recap of Lake’s murder, and details of his subsequent suicide attempts. Defense attorneys tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to paint the murder as a crime of passion, which entails a much shorter jail sentence.

Luis Sosa pleaded not guilty Monday of fatally shooting Santa Barbara resident Frank Tacadena, 60, two months ago. Both Sosa’s case and that of his codefendant, John Lopez, are assigned to Judge Frank Ochoa. Police claim Sosa was the triggerman, but that he didn’t personally know Tacadena. Witnesses reported nasty words exchanged between Sosa and Tacadena before the shot was fired. Lopez, who was with Sosa at the time of the shooting, has also pleaded not guilty. According to county prosecutors, Sosa killed Tacadena the same day he got out of County Jail. In custody for violating the conditions of his probation, Sosa served only six days of his 34-day sentence because of jail overcrowding.

Two criminal cases involving bicyclist deaths at the hands of motorists are now making their way through the court system. Ernesto Botello, the 24-year-old SUV driver who accidentally killed Jake Boysel on his way to school two months ago, pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in county Jail. Meanwhile, no deal has been reached between prosecutors and the attorney representing Marcos Almaguer, the truck driver who accidentally killed UCSB student Kendra Payne as she biked up Gibraltar Road. In response to Payne’s death – which attracted considerable media attention – Assembly-member Pedro Nava introduced a bill requiring motorists to allow cyclists at least 36 inches of headway. The bill never made it out of the first committee to which it was assigned.

A Los Angeles County judge has allowed four Santa Barbara molestation cases to proceed against Father Matthew Kelly, now deceased, who taught and said mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe from the 1940s to the 1970s. The Kelly cases are among the 80 given the green light to proceed last week by Judge Haley Fromholz. Attorney Tim Hale, representing the four Santa Barbara plaintiffs, described Kelly as a “serial predator” who preyed upon poor kids from broken families by taking them to his Santa Ynez mountain retreat, plying them with booze, and taking sexual advantage of them. The archdiocese has not denied the allegations against Kelly, but maintains it knew nothing of Kelly’s mode of operation and thus could take no protective steps. Hale claims his witnesses will say otherwise. About 500 molestation cases were filed against the archdiocese three years ago; they were put on hold pending mediation efforts that have since proven unsuccessful.

There was a conspicuous dearth of Michael Jackson jokes – or any joking at all – at District Attorney Tom Sneddon’s ceremonial send-off Friday at the DoubleTree Resort. Sneddon was wined, dined, and speechified by about 450 well-wishers – a who’s who of Santa Barbara political and courthouse circles – who showed up to bid adieu to the county’s most powerful law enforcement official for the past 24 years. Sneddon, who is preparing for retirement, has served as a prosecutor in Santa Barbara since 1969.

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