The ongoing murder trial of 20-year-old Benjamin Vargas — who stabbed and killed a man during a fight in Isla Vista — continued Wednesday when a new witness was called to testify.
The victim, 26-year-old Vincent Velasquez, died of his wounds in the early morning hours of May 15, 2011, after his two friends drove him to Goleta Hospital immediately following the brawl. In the backseat with Velasquez was Aaron Disandro, one of Velasquez’s closest friends since the eighth grade. Traumatized and intoxicated, Disandro did what he could to keep his friend alive as they raced for help.
During Wednesday’s proceedings, prosecutor Hans Almgren questioned Disandro about how the events of that night unfolded. It began as an ordinary enough evening for Disandro and his friends — “playing video games, watching TV, sports,” Disandro said. Arriving at an I.V. party at around 11 p.m., Disandro, Velasquez, and their friend Ray Velez stayed for less than 30 minutes before walking to their car to return home.
Parked on Abrego Street, Disandro was sitting in the passenger seat of Velez’s car when, after approximately five minutes, he saw two people walking toward them, Vargas and his girlfriend, Karen Medina. Disandro said he heard Velasquez, who was outside leaning against the car, say “What’s up?” to Vargas, who responded aggressively, “Don’t say ‘what’s up’ to me, homie. You don’t know me.” Disandro said Vargas repeated these words five to seven times. To that, said Disandro, Velasquez teasingly countered, “I can say ‘what’s up’ to you. What’s up?”
After this, the fight ensued. Disandro, though, remembered hearing only a “scuffle,” a “tussling.” He said he sat in the car waiting for what was happening behind him to end because he “thought it was nothing serious.” He admitted to seeing both Vargas and Velasquez knock each other down somewhere in the middle of the street, but not much else.
During his turn for questioning, defense attorney Ron Bamieh pounced on Disandro, issuing in rapid succession a series of questions seemingly aimed at casting doubt on the veracity of his testimony. Bamieh’s interrogations revealed that Disandro’s answers to police questioning the day after the murder were inconsistent with what he’d just related to Almgren. Quoting from Disandro’s May 15 interview with police, Bamieh related to Disandro that when detectives were asking him for help, Disandro repeatedly told them he knew nothing further than the fact that he saw a “dude looking like an esse, some cholo-looking guy with gang affiliation” and a “really fat” girl, and hearing the “what’s up?” exchange. Bamieh, moving from his podium toward the witness stand, said to Disandro, “You were really drunk that night weren’t you?” He wondered why it was that Disandro could recall in court what he could not relate to police directly after the incident.
The witness attributed his conflicting answers to the grief of having lost his friend, and intoxication. “If this is true,” Bamieh countered, “why, after having remembered what really happened that night, did you not let anyone know before the Grand Jury?” Disandro gave no response. “On what basis are you making these judgments now if you had no recollection when you spoke to the police?” Disandro responded, “If only you knew what has been going on in my mind.” He claimed to have had “flashbacks and visions and dreams” which helped him truly recall what transpired. Bamieh ended his questioning at that point.
The trial continues this Thursday.