Community stands behind accused murderer

March 16, 2010 7:59:39 PM PDT
A troubled man struggled for years with a dark secret of sexual abuse before it was finally revealed when he opened fire on the man he says tortured him for years.

It happened in Fort Bragg, along the Mendocino County Coast and now his family is talking about what drove him to violence.

Aaron Vargas' mother says he was just a happy kid who loved fishing, hunting and baseball, but after a trip to Oregon when he was 11 years old, Aaron was never the same. That is when Vargas says Darrell McNeill, started raping him.

Last February, Vargas went to McNeill's house with a gun and killed him front of his wife. Vargas stood by McNeill for half an hour, taking apart the pistol that fired the fatal shot.

"I think he just broke, because he was pushed so hard by Darrell, he would not leave him alone," Vargas' mother Robin said.

Whether or not he intended to shoot his alleged abuser will be decided at Vargas' upcoming trial.

Vargas claims McNeill relentlessly pursued him and continued to abuse him into his 20s. He says McNeill would drive by his house, call him up to 10 times a day and asked to babysit his newborn daughter.

"Aaron was never a drinker, he never seemed to struggle with addiction and he would go months and he would seem fine, everything would seem fine," Vargas' sister Mindy Galliani said.

For friends and family who knew nothing of the secret Vargas had been keeping, his erratic behavior over the years suddenly made sense to them.

"All of the sudden his whole life would fall apart; he would quit his job, he would go on like a binge and get drunk, him and his girlfriend would break up and it was like his whole world would fall apart," Galliani said.

Since the shooting a dozen other men have come forward to say they too, were molested by McNeill, a onetime Boy Scout leader and Big Brother.

Todd Rowan told ABC's Chris Cuomo he was one of McNeill's victims. Rowan filed a police report 10 years ago, but police never followed up.

Chris Cuomo: "What did you think when you heard about the Aaron Vargas situation?"

Todd Rowan: "There was some relief there; no one's going to get hurt anymore."

The revelations have hit the small community hard, but not the way many would expect. "Save Aaron" t-shirts, mugs and bumper stickers are sprouting up around the community. Even McNeill's son has come out in support of Vargas.

A judge has imposed a gag order in the case preventing many people from talking about it.

The Mendocino County District Attorney is seeking a first-degree murder conviction with a possible sentence of 50 years to life. They say life experience alone does not excuse conduct.

"That seems completely ignorant to me," Vargas' fiancée Selena Barnett said.

Barnett has joined the chorus of people who say Vargas has suffered enough.

"Your life experience is what creates who you are as a man; you can't say this and that happened to you when you were this old, but now that you're 30 it doesn't matter anymore," she said.

"I know it's their job to prosecute people but I don't think that means checking your humanity at the door when you got to do your job," Galliani said.

Vargas' defense team has entered a not guilty plea. The family says psychiatrists have diagnosed Vargas with post-traumatic stress disorder and Stockholm syndrome -- a condition emotionally bonding him to his attacker.

Chris Cuomo: "What's your fear?

Robert Vargas (father): "That they are going to send him to prison for more time than he deserves."

"Aaron needs to be in counseling, he needs to be home with his wife, his family, his baby; he doesn't need to be locked up, it's not his fault," Robin Vargas said.

McNeill's widow, who witnessed the killing, says she knew nothing about all the abuse. She will be asking the judge for leniency when Vargas' trial begins April 19.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel


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