Benjamin Vargas during the first week of his murder trial (April 9, 2012)

Paul Wellman

Benjamin Vargas during the first week of his murder trial (April 9, 2012)

Vargas Can’t Be Convicted of First Degree Murder

Defense Attorney Successfully Lobbies Judge to Take Option Off the Table

Wednesday, April 25, 2012
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The jury that will decide the fate of Benjamin Vargas was given its instructions for deliberation Thursday afternoon. Not included in what the 12-member panel could consider: first degree murder.

That’s because Judge George Eskin said that, based on the evidence, no rational trier of fact could find Vargas guilty of first degree murder, which requires premeditation and deliberation. The defendant is accused of stabbing to death Vincent Velasquez during an altercation in Isla Vista in May 2011.

The judge’s decision meant the jury was only instructed on the elements of second degree murder as well as voluntary manslaughter. It also meant the jury heard instructions about the defenses to those charges. While a second degree murder conviction would require that Vargas acted with “malice aforethought,” if the jury finds Vargas “acted upon a sudden quarrel” or “acted under the direct and immediate influence of provocation,” the charge could be reduced to voluntary manslaughter. As well, if Vargas acted in “imperfect self-defense,” second degree murder could be dropped to manslaughter.

If the jury finds he used “perfect self-defense,” the homicide was justifiable and he could not be found guilty of a crime. To be justifiable, the jury must find that Vargas believed retaliation was necessary to avert imminent death or great bodily harm. He also must not have been the initial aggressor.

Defense attorney Ron Bamieh made the motion after prosecutor Hans Almgren concluded his case, asking the judge to eliminate the first degree murder instruction, and the judge made his ruling Wednesday morning.

While Bamieh is conceding his client stabbed Velasquez, he said Vargas acted out of self-defense. According to testimony, the two started fighting on Abrego Road in Isla Vista, with Velasquez throwing the first punch. The two began grappling, with Velasquez gaining the upper hand, according to testimony. But things changed at some point, with Velasquez eventually dropping to a knee. A friend saw that he was bloody and rushed him to the hospital, where he died. Though no witnesses ever saw a knife, it was later discovered that Velasquez had died from 16 stab wounds.

While he no longer will have to get the jury to believe his client acted willfully and deliberately in stabbing Velasquez (elements for first degree murder), Bamieh may have a hard time convincing the jury that the 16 stab wounds Velasquez received during the brawl were justified.

Closing arguments will take place Thursday.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

So, Vargas goes out on a night of partying (far from home) armed with a knife. If that is not malice and aforethought, I don't know what is. Why would anyone with intent of sharing a few beers with the residents of I.V. go armed with a knife unless he fully expected to stab someone by night's end. What a loser. Lock him away and throw away the key. Why do these guys even want to go to I.V. to party with people with whom they have absolutely nothing in common. Is beer that expensive, that it is worth coming all the way out to I.V. to get free one?

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
April 25, 2012 at 6:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Stabbed him 16 times huh?...yep, sounds like self-defense to me.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
April 25, 2012 at 6:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

So the guy continued to beat this other guy after knife stab #1, and didn't stop until #16, sounds like an alcohol fueled rage to me which necessitated extreme force. Other than people don't like the way that Vargas looks, it is not fair to not believe that he was not defending himself.

AZ2SB (anonymous profile)
April 25, 2012 at 7:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I was a potential juror. One of the things we were told by the Judge, before being considered as jurors, was that this would not be a capital crime.

SantaBarbaraLover (anonymous profile)
April 25, 2012 at 10:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@Ackerman - HOW DARE YOU make such an assumption! I have been present during the entire trial and you are sorely mistaken. First of all the defendant did not go out with the knife and has never been known to carry one, the knife belonged to the deceased so that's the intention the deceased went out with not the defendant! I too went with the thought it is hard to prove self defense with so many wounds but when you see and hear all the details of the story you will see how and why there were so many and have it shown it was in fact self defense. He is not nor has ever been known to be a gang member or violent, he is a young father who went out to a party with his girlfriend and was attacked by a menacing person who he had no other choice but to react with violence toward. His girlfriend was screaming for help in the street as he was being beaten and no one helped her. The only reason he is the one on trial is because he was able to get control of the knife before the owner was able to use it. There were so many wounds because the other man was still aggressively beating the defendant to the extent that the defendant had no way to realize he had even inflicted injury so he just kept swinging trying to get the man off of him as he could hear his girlfriend screaming for her own safety. Your words are so narrow minded and bias it makes me sick to my stomach. Its a good thing you weren't on the jury or a second young man would surely lose his life to 25 years in prison!you should be banned from commenting on anything regarding crime and justice when clearly you are an ignorant judgmental person.

alishadally (anonymous profile)
April 29, 2012 at 2:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I haven't been following this case but I can tell you it is quite possible that one could be stabbed sixteen times and still pose a threat, partially depending of course on where the wounds are. Don't discount adrenalin, and if the person wounded has ingested alcohol or other chemicals, this too could be a factor.
Again, not speaking specifically about this case, people rarely die instantly like the movies- for better or worse. Even Hitchcock, in striving for greater reality in his films strove to communicate both how hard it is to kill someone, and what horribly hard work dying usually is. Blessed is the person who dies instantly.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 29, 2012 at 3:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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