A U.S. Army veteran was found guilty of killing his elderly Asian neighbor while attempting to rape her in Garden Grove, California, nearly six years ago.
The allegation: Michael Aon Varela, 36, was accused of beating Dzung Thi Nguyen, 68, while attempting to sexually assault her in their neighborhood near the 22 Freeway and Beach Boulevard at around 5 a.m. on Sept. 9, 2017, while she was out for a morning walk.
The aftermath: Police found Nguyen naked from the waist down with her shirt pulled up. Her nose, eye socket and hyoid bone were all broken. Varela, on the other hand, was “found shirtless, covered in blood, with his pants fly unbuttoned and multiple injuries that appeared to be defense wounds on his body.” Nguyen was transported to a hospital and died on Sept. 21, 2017.
What the defense claimed: According to his public attorney Arlene Speiser, Varela was a bystander who discovered and tried to assist Nguyen. During the trial, Speiser told jurors that Varela “came home to anyone’s worst nightmare — an innocent person trying to help another human being that placed him in suspicious circumstances.”
What the evidence showed: Investigation matched Nguyen’s DNA on Varela’s penis and Varela’s DNA on Nguyen’s clothes. Varela had scratches on his arm, knee and above one eye, which suggested a struggle. Security cameras did not capture the attack, but they showed Varela’s car parking at around 4:38 a.m. and recyclables collected by Nguyen being scattered at around 5:09 a.m. Authorities believe the attack occurred within the time frame.
Verdict: After a lengthy trial, Varela was convicted of first-degree murder on July 20. He faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
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