Email Vesta
Blog Home Page

Welcome to the Sonoma County Gazette ARCHIVE of PAST EDITIONS. Our NEW WEBSITE is up and running, so GazExtra is serving as your path to archived articles. Thanks for being part of our Sonoma County community...stay in touch...e-mail me - VESTA

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Abuse Laws in Trial - the Aaron Vargas Case

Abuse Laws on Trial
By Vesta Copestakes

Abuse of every kind…physical, mental, emotional is wrong. That’s an easy judgment to make…a simple right vs. wrong. Most people think of abuse in physical terms – he beats her, etc. That’s the kind that gets in the news. But it’s often more subtle than that – hidden behind curtains of shame so we don’t even recognize the symptoms, often until it’s too late.

Trial dates have been changed again:
The hearing on the 20th has been cancelled. The next hearings are on June 14th and 15th. The facts of the case will be determined and Aaron will be sentenced.

Aaron Vargas goes to trial for killing his abuser. He took an antique weapon and shot the man who abused him since he was 11, then waited until he died. Aaron wasn’t the only person Darrell McNeill abused over the years. One victim committed suicide, others have come forward to tell their tale. In a small community, it’s easy to see why people kept their shame to themselves. But not all did, and that’s where the case crosses a line into a matter of law and justice.

Right now three Sonoma County officials are asking us to vote for them using domestic violence as their calling card. It’s a good one because much needs to be done to change the way our system works. In the Aaaron Vargas case numerous people went to the police over the years to ask for help. Each time nothing changed. The abuser was a Boy Scout leader, a Big Brother, a well-respected leader in the community. Maybe if he had been the town drunk law enforcement would have listened…maybe not.

The police will tell you that they get calls every day asking for help when a husband beats his wife, when a child comes to school with cuts and bruises, when the neighbor’s fight gets out of hand. Law enforcement will tell you that they can only take action when there has been an incident that results in injury they can document. Child Protective Services will open a case, interview the parents, etc. but they can only intervene when the child suffers enough to warrant removing him/her from the home. For many, that’s too late.

In California we have laws that will take an abuser away even if the abused doesn’t press charges. It’s a good law. Victims have a lot of fear around pressing charges. Fear of retaliation. Fear of losing the good times when he’s fun. Fear of losing their child’s father – the man who provides when he’s not under the influence. Fear of being judged by others. Fear.

So what can we do to change the laws so that reporting suspected abuse stops the perpetrator before the victim suffers permanent damage – or takes the law into his/her own hands?

Government budget cuts are rampant so there are less and less law enforcement personnel to tackle these “little” cases where no one gets robbed or killed. We prioritize the big crime and let the quiet crimes take care of themselves…because we’re broke…because there’s so much crime…because we don’t really know what to do about it.

With the Aaron Vargas trial we have chance to get law enforcement’s attention because his case is so unusual and his family, friends, neighbors, community…even the wife of his victim are asking us to examine what makes a kind person kill. What went wrong that law enforcement didn’t stop this abuser before he was killed.

In the Aaron Vargas case we have a chance to raise our voices along with his supporters and bring attention to how law enforcement does, and does not, respond to abuse. We also have a chance to ask questions of the people running for office in this coming election. Abuse is a subject that needs more attention – let’s talk about it out in the open where our voices can be heard – and maybe – we can do something about it. for information on the Aaron Vargas trial.

The next hearing date is April 20th.
The trial will take place at the Ukiah Courthouse in courtroom B. Mindy, Aaron's sister, is asking people to show up outside the courthouse and to be present in the courtroom. Letters supporting Aaron can be addressed to the judge prior to sentencing. should be short and to the point because the judge doesn't have a lot of time to read lengthy letters.If you'd like to write a letter, you can address it to Judge Ronald Brown and email it to or mail it to:

Tom Hudson
P.O. Box 776
Albion, CA 95410

20751 Fawn Lane
Fort Bragg, CA 95437

Letters to Aaron can be addressed to:

Aaron Vargas, Inmate# 71742
Mendocino County Jail
951 Low Gap Road
Ukiah, CA 95482

Aaron's attorney will submit the facts of the case to the judge, then the case info will be given to probation so that they can make their sentencing recommendation. There won't be any testimony at this hearing, just at the sentencing hearing, which will be in June sometime (we'll get the date on the 20th). The attorney would prefer to have the letters by the 20th so that he can give copies to probation. But we can still submit them after the 20th as well.

Pay attention to the politicians running for office from now until the election. Previous posts on this story can be found here on GazExtra!

Below is a letter written by Aaron's aunt - the family side of the story many people will recognize as reflecting their own lives and experiences:

On February 8, 2009, I received a phone call telling me my nephew, Aaron Vargas, had been arrested for killing Darrell McNeill. Of course my first response was disbelief followed by shock and more disbelief. Not possible, not Aaron. Aaron is kind, gentle, and caring. Then of course came the “why”? If what I’m being told is true, then why? What could possibly make this kind, gentle, caring person kill?

It is now February 10, 2010 and that is one of the questions I’ve been thinking about for 367 days. As the story has unfolded the answers to some questions have been immensely devastating. I learned that Darrell was a pedophile. Pedophile is the wrong word, let me rephrase, Darrell raped children. Darrell pretended to be a good father to Aaron’s friend, Michael. Darrell pretended to be a nice neighbor. Darrell pretended to be an upstanding citizen, a “Big Brother,” a Boy Scout leader. Darrell pretended to care for children in order to prey upon them. Darrell, who cared so much for his “little brother,” was the cause of that “little brother’s” eventual suicide. Darrell began molesting – no, molesting is the wrong word - Darrell began raping Aaron when Aaron was eleven years old. Eleven. Take a moment to remember yourself at eleven. What were you like? What did you think? How did you feel? At eleven did you have much life experience? Aaron was eleven, Darrell was in his forties. Aaron was not Darrell’s first victim, nor was he his last.

Darrell was good at what he did.

After Aaron’s arrest many boys came forward in support of Aaron, telling of the abuse they’d endured by Darrell. In some instances it was the first time they’d ‘told’. In others it was not, they had told before, some had reported it to the police. These boys, I call them boys but they are now men in their thirties and forties, were brave enough to disclose and nothing was done. No investigation - Darrell wasn’t even approached let alone questioned. Nothing.

The days and weeks following Aaron’s arrest were days and weeks of our family continually asking ourselves, “how did we not know?” How was it possible that we had failed Aaron so miserably? The continual conversations with each of us saying, “I should have known”. Why didn’t we? Why didn’t we see it? Why didn’t we know? Seeing the pain and sadness in Aaron’s parents, in my parents, and knowing the heartbreak and despair we all felt at not doing our job, not protecting our loved one. These haunting questions led me to research child abuse and the things I learned broke my heart yet again. I learned that the abuser is most likely to be a trusted family friend or a family member. I learned one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. That 70% of child abusers have between one and nine victims. That 20% have 10 to 40 victims. That an average serial abuser can have as many as 400 victims. That over 30% of victims never disclose the experience to ANYONE, and of those who do disclose, 75% do it accidentally. Is there comfort in knowing that our family is not alone in not knowing? No. None at all.

Learning these things and realizing the “stranger danger” that I taught my children would be of little use in most situations led to my panicked phone call to my son, who is away at Graduate school. Asking him point blank, “have you ever been sexually abused?” A sigh of relief when he responded that he hadn’t, the surprise when he asked me the same question. Thinking yes, he is right, according to the statistics it needs to be a conversation that everyone has no matter parent or child. Then remembering that 30% never disclose leads me to ask again and again to ensure that his response was truthful.

Later it hit me, what if he had said yes? What if my daughter had said yes? What if the answer had been yes, and a friend or family member that I loved and trusted was named, what would I do? In that moment I knew. In that moment I realized that I could kill. Me, a person who has never intentionally killed anything, not even bugs. Me, the person who catches and releases any insects I find in my home. Me, the law-abiding, rational person I thought myself to be, realized that I could kill.
I don’t know exactly what happened the night of February 8, 2009. From what I do know Aaron didn’t go to Darrell’s with the intent of killing him. But if he had I now understand. I understand it is possible for a good person to kill.

In these last 367 days some questions have been answered, but many others have arisen. Why didn’t the police investigate? How is it possible that we as a society allow one in four girls and one in six boys to be sexually abused? How could the Deputy DA on Aaron’s case even utter the words describing the abuse testimony as “self-serving” and “irrelevant”? Why are there so many abusers in our society? How does a person become so messed up that they can rape children? Why does our justice system not work? Why is the DA so intent on sending Aaron to prison for 50-years-to-life, knowing Darrell’s family is supporting him? How do we stop all forms of child abuse? How do we protect every child?

During these 367 days Aaron’s sister, Mindy, has been tirelessly working on his behalf. She started a website called, which provides information on Aaron’s case and on recognizing and preventing child abuse. She’s contacted numerous media organizations trying to get the word out, and she has organized several fundraisers. She’s told me of the many, many people who’ve contacted her and shared their own stories of abuse and who write to Aaron. Tirelessly she is working to bring her brother home, to raise awareness, to protect every child. She is working hard to end the silence of child abuse, and I wonder, why aren’t we all?
Rhonda Wilson
Fort Bragg

Labels: , ,