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To Kill a Predator
March 25, 2010 10:57 AM   Subscribe

A year ago, Aaron Vargas walked into Darrell McNeil's trailer and shot him in the chest with a .44 caliber black powder revolver. For the next half hour, Vargas prevented McNeil's bewildered and horrified wife from calling the police while he watched McNeil die. Jury selection for Vargas's trial begins April 12th; the D.A. is seeking 50 years to life. Meanwhile, the citizens of Vargas's and McNeil's hometown - including McNeil's daughter, son, stepson, and aforementioned widow - have rallied together in support of justice for the victim. But he's not who you might think. (Some links may be NSFW.)
posted by granted (77 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Vigilante justice isn't justice. What about the impact of the ordeal on McNeil's wife?
posted by idiomatika at 11:10 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Vigilante justice isn't justice. What about the impact of the ordeal on McNeil's wife?
"I know the man I was married to, but this other man who abused kids, I didn't know," said McNeill's 52-year-old widow and wife of 25 years, Liz McNeill. "I call them Darrell One and Darrell Two - but I have no reason not to believe Aaron.

"I do think Aaron needs to spend some time in jail, but not a lot," McNeill said, lips pursed tightly. "I can understand being driven to the edge, but I do not condone what he did. He just needs help. I've known him most of his life, and I still love the kid."
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:13 AM on March 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Vigilante justice isn't justice. What about the impact of the ordeal on McNeil's wife?

Did you read the links? McNeil's wife and children are advocating against a harsh sentence.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:15 AM on March 25, 2010


I really don't think it's wise to become a society which condones retribution killings. What happened to Aaron was horrific, but we have mechanisms in our country to address such horrors, and they don't involve showing up at someone's house with a gun and shooting them.

Peace and condolences for both Aaron for what he endured, and for the murdered man's family.
posted by hippybear at 11:15 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmm...I don't think it will end well for the defendant. McNeil had not been found guilty of the alleged sexual abuse or even tried for it (as far as I can see from the articles). Thus the prosecution will probably argue that Vargas should have brought a criminal complaint; I would be surprised if the statute of limitations had lapsed for the alleged abuse, particularly rape.

Further, by killing McNeil, Vargas denied the other alleged abuse victims the chance to confront McNeil in court and definitively establish his guilt.
posted by jedicus at 11:16 AM on March 25, 2010


Yeah. I'm going to have to agree with idiomatika: we expect police officers not to appoint themselves judge, jury and executioner; the same should be true of private citizens. Now, the situation gets a *little* murkier when the police will not follow up on formally lodged complaints but individuals cannot be allowed to determine the burden of proof necessary for execution. Hell, I'm not particularly keen on the *government* killing people even *after* the full legal process.
posted by lucasks at 11:20 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would be surprised if the statute of limitations had lapsed for the alleged abuse, particularly rape.

Is anyone reading the links? A complaint was brought against him by his second wife, and the police said the abuse happened too long ago. Then she even searched through his things and found a PHOTO of him with a local kid in a compromising position, and they still wouldn't do anything without the kid's testimony, and she couldn't convince the kid to come forward.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:21 AM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


I really don't think it's wise to become a society which condones retribution killings.

Too late.
posted by sallybrown at 11:22 AM on March 25, 2010 [18 favorites]


I mean, it's pretty clear that this is an extraordinary situation - the "mechanisms" had failed in the worst way, and this was a last resort. I mean, the fucking guy was going after this guy's daughter, asking if he could babysit her. What could that have possibly sounded like to Vargas other than the same piece of shit that raped him now wants to rape his daughter?
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:27 AM on March 25, 2010 [10 favorites]


A complaint was brought against him by his second wife

But not by Vargas.
posted by jedicus at 11:27 AM on March 25, 2010


If he delusionally but sincerely believed (because of his abuse, police not caring) that he had to kill McNeil to prevent him from molesting or assaulting someone (eg his daughter), would that allow a mental capacity or manslaughter defense? Does it then matter if those things are true?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:31 AM on March 25, 2010


There are a lot of crimes that we as a society think are particularly awful. Where would you like to draw the line? Right now it's starting to look like "voting for health care reform" is enough to qualify for vigilante justice so perhaps anything more serious than a parking ticket is fair game. I'd like to think there's a better solution than that, but maybe I'm just kidding myself.
posted by tommasz at 11:32 AM on March 25, 2010


"it's pretty clear that this is an extraordinary situation - the "mechanisms" had failed in the worst way, and this was a last resort. "

sums it up well.

I thought this was illuminating (coming from the wife of 25 years of the victim who was in the room when he was killed)

"I do think Aaron needs to spend some time in jail, but not a lot," [...] "He just needs help. I've known him most of his life, and I still love the kid."

posted by nihlton at 11:45 AM on March 25, 2010


But not by Vargas.

Okay, sure. So you're saying they wouldn't have told him the same thing, that it was too long ago? Was he supposed to go to the police while he was being molested as a kid?
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:50 AM on March 25, 2010


Just to be clear, I totally agree with the idea that vigilante justice is wrong. This, however, is an extraordinary situation. The guy should go to jail, but not for the rest of his life. Give him 5 years for whatever-the-lowest-degree-is manslaughter, let him out on parole after a year if he doesn't shank anyone. Is that not fair?
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:52 AM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Shouldn't the FPP read: "...have rallied together in support of justice for the victim suspect..."?
posted by ericb at 11:56 AM on March 25, 2010


* Grown man sexually and psychologically abuses children for two decades.
* Despite evidence, victims coming forward, one victim committing suicide, and multiple pleas for an investigation, law enforcement does nothing. As is true in so many sexual abuse cases, they turned a blind eye.
* 20 years later, perverted grown man is still stalking victim and his family - and is attempting to gain private access to victim's child.
* After being pushed to the edge, and with no public body to turn to, sexually and psychologically tortured man kills child molester partially out of vengeance and partially for the future safety of his and other's children ("you won't hurt anyone again...").

It wasn't the 'legal' definition or means of justice, but that doesn't make it unjust.

The law failed Vargas. You can't argue that the right thing to do here is to prosecute a man with the same broken system that led him to the crime, the system that failed him and is now being used to destroy him further. The people who should be prosecuted here are the law enforcement professionals who refused to investigate the allegations of abuse. Because instead of acting when they should have, they waited until the victim took matters into his own hands - and then took action against him.

It's not so different from how we so often prosecute child prostitution: young girl is kidnapped by pimp, raped, psychologically and sexually abused, then arrested and prosecuted for being a prostitute. What?

Those who want to argue that 'vigilante justice is not justice' - fine; but it doesn't follow that our justice system is 'just' and we as a people should become complacent. Those who want to argue that the case should have gone through due process - due process was abandoned when law enforcement refused to investigate allegations of abuse. To turn around after a citizen took the law into his own hands when the law would not help him and charge him with first degree murder and 50 years in prison is not due process. It's bullshit. It's corrupt bullshit.

The idea that our society would take a broken man, abused for nearly his whole life, who, when denied justice, sought justice - and indeed protection for his child and the children of others - and lock him away for half a century to the tune of $40,000 of public money a year, let alone robbing his child of a father and his wife of a husband, is absurd. Utterly absurd. "The law is the law because it is the law" is a dangerous road to go down, imho.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:58 AM on March 25, 2010 [51 favorites]


Why is the DA seeking 50 years to life?
posted by kenko at 12:04 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I sort of thought cases like this is even why we have "manslaughter" as a crime instead of just calling it "murder" whenever someone kills someone else. Isn't it? Isn't the definition of manslaughter when you kill someone, but for a good reason?
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:05 PM on March 25, 2010


Why is the DA seeking 50 years to life?

If I had to take a wild guess, the same bullshit reason as always in this situation: Gotta Be Tough On Crime, in order to curry favor with mean dipshits.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:06 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bring him to a jury trial. Let all the evidence be heard. He will walk. I have that much faith in America. It ain't much but I have that much faith in America.
posted by edheil at 12:10 PM on March 25, 2010


Those who want to argue that 'vigilante justice is not justice' - fine; but it doesn't follow that our justice system is 'just' and we as a people should become complacent.

True. And yet...

If we allow people to act as judge, jury, and executioner every time they believe they have been wronged by our imperfect system of justice... if we actively stand up and say "this person was right and justified in this (subsequent) crime and thus should not be prosecuted for his own transgression of the law"... then we become a land of vigilantes who find proper excuse for any and all actions taken against any perceived slight.

I think the wise defense lawyer will be seeking some kind of lesser sentence, by demonstrating mental distress / incompetence or some such. But that is not what the saveaaron website is advocating. They want to see this killing excused. And that is what I cannot condone.
posted by hippybear at 12:11 PM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah, it's a slippery slope, and you're absolutely right in everything you said hippybear - but that still doesn't explain why he needs to be in prison for the rest of his life. That's why I said he should just get some token sentence and then get out on parole - you can't kill someone and not get in any trouble at all, I don't think, but that doesn't mean he should get the same effective sentence as Jeffery Dahmer, you know?
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:16 PM on March 25, 2010


I agree, though, that none of this matters anyway because he'll walk. Are you kidding me? With the full fledged To Catch A Predator (even referenced in the post title!) hysteria against pedophiles now? I bet if you interviewed a huge sample of Americans, somewhere north of 80% would agree with the statement "I believe all pedophiles should be taken out in an alley and shot in the head", even if they didn't really think that, because the sentiment against pedophiles is so incredibly negative that to say you don't agree might make people think you sympathize with pedophiles.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:20 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


For a split second he got his revenge and justice. Now he has to go to jail for it. Not worth it. But what was he to do? Sad. But dont' tell me if it was your kid, killing the pervert that did it wouldn't come to mind.
posted by stormpooper at 12:25 PM on March 25, 2010


If we allow people to act as judge, jury, and executioner every time they believe they have been wronged by our imperfect system of justice... if we actively stand up and say "this person was right and justified in this (subsequent) crime and thus should not be prosecuted for his own transgression of the law"... then we become a land of vigilantes who find proper excuse for any and all actions taken against any perceived slight.

Well, I don't think the slippery slope would be quite so severe as you imply, but yes, I know - obviously what you say is true. But what needs to happen is we need to take this case - and cases like this - and use them to change the non-vigilante system for the better, instead of moving forward as if this were a cut and dry murder case like any other, which is how the prosecuting attorney seems to want to proceed, as if the law were so black and white. This is an exemplar of the very deep problems with our justice system and it's a great opportunity to say 'wait the fuck one minute here.' Is murder always wrong? Clearly the very government system which aims to lock this man away for 50 years for as justified murder case as there ever way doesn't think so - how many Iraqi's have we murdered in the name of justice, peace and the greater good. This case is no different - it's just on a small scale, it's civilian and the person murdered was white.

It's a deeply rooted contradiction in how we handle our affairs: you can justify the murder of thousands of people, but you can't justify the murder of one.

It makes no sense.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:26 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can see a lesser sentence being appropriate, but you just can't have people taking the law into their own hands. I don't think he should get off scott free. He could go for jury nullification but then he risks getting 50 to life.
posted by caddis at 12:26 PM on March 25, 2010


The chance for a lesser sentence is entirely in the DA's hands, I think. A plea bargain to a lesser charge is up to him to offer, as is whether to bring a lesser included charge for the jury to settle on as an alternative to nullification or convicting Vargas of murder in the first. And the DA sounds like a hardass.
posted by amber_dale at 12:31 PM on March 25, 2010


Okay, sure. So you're saying they wouldn't have told him the same thing, that it was too long ago? Was he supposed to go to the police while he was being molested as a kid?

No, they probably would have. I'm not arguing that it's right that things may go badly for Vargas. I'm simply stating that the law generally frowns on what it calls "self help."
posted by jedicus at 12:31 PM on March 25, 2010


might make people think you sympathize with pedophiles.

Okay, I'll come out and say it. I do sympathize with pedophiles. Not with the ones who act on their impulses, but I cannot imagine the living hell it must be to find oneself sexually interested in people who are children.

One of the brightest, most creative, delightful, amazing people I've ever known in my life was wired that way. He knew it was something he could never act upon, and all indications are that he never did. He did work with children in various capacities (mostly doing theater productions), but he made sure never to be put in a position where anyone could ever doubt his actions with any of them. He spoke frankly to me more than once about his interests and how difficult it was for him, but also how he tried to find healthy, adult ways to sublimate his frustration and not allow himself to act on those interests.

Watching this vibrant artist deal with this taught me many lessons about what it means to be of noble character in the face of one's internal demons.

So when I think of pedophiles, I don't think of the creepy creepsters who are actually acting on their impulses. I think of people who are NOT doing anything sexual with children, who are keeping their libidinous urges in check. And I have sympathy for those people. The ones who actually have sex with kids? They are abusers, taking advantage of their positions of power to have what they want at all costs. They have failed as human beings, because the basic privilege of being human is that you are not ruled by your instincts and can make choices which go against them rather than having to succumb to every urge.
posted by hippybear at 12:35 PM on March 25, 2010 [15 favorites]


I wonder what a real jury of his peers would think. If you could find 12 individuals who would admit to having experienced that much trauma, alienation, rage and loneliness for so long. I suspect he's technically guilty of murder one.

I hope the DA offers him a plea bargain, and I can't think that it would be a political win for a DA to prosecute this to the hilt.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:38 PM on March 25, 2010


Lutokowski: Isn't it up to the defense attorney to create the reasonable doubt in the jury's collective mind that the charges being brought against the accused are unjust, and thus doing make it impossible for them to vote the defendant "guilty as charged"? Why should our system of justice create a series of benchmarks which judge one person killing another as somehow justified or deserved?

I would much rather have two strong attorneys arguing a case and let a jury decide innocence or guilt within the context of the law than have a graded system within which some killings are justified from the get-go.
posted by hippybear at 12:42 PM on March 25, 2010


Isn't the definition of manslaughter when you kill someone, but for a good reason?

I can't tell if you're being colloquial (or something) by saying "the definition", but in case you're not... no, that's very clearly not the definition of manslaughter, as a quick google search will tell you. Manslaughter is:
"The unlawful killing of a human being without malice or premeditation, either express or implied; distinguished from murder, which requires malicious intent."
There are mitigating circumstances, however, which is why we have juries of citizens decide cases like these instead of just following a rulebook.
posted by dammitjim at 12:45 PM on March 25, 2010


The law exists to be the official, sanctioned substitute for what we modern people call "vigilante justice", and our distant ancestors simply called "justice". When the law fails -- repeatedly, purposely, and spectacularly -- vigilante justice is what you get. This is precisely because the law was meant to take care of something that people once did for themselves, and are still more than capable of doing for themselves if they feel they must.

I fear we're very close to forgetting that in this country... close to forgetting that the point of the law is not to make money or even to incarcerate criminals, but to provide fair and reasonable justice so the people don't have to.

As others have said, the real criminals here are the keepers of "justice" who did nothing for years, and then came down on the guy who finally did something. The fact that this killing ever happened is an indictment of the system; the fact that the system now wants to severely punish the man who did it is a further indictment. It suggests a system which knows that it's broken, and acts to defend that brokenness even when doing so flies in the face of its own supposed charter.

That's not justice. And when people don't have justice, they will make some. Our law enforcement system would do well to keep that in mind.
posted by vorfeed at 12:53 PM on March 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Is it just me, or did vorfeed justify all the tea party actions against members of congress that we've seen in the past few days since health care was passed?

Because you can't have the attitude that "when people don't have justice, they will make some", and then complain when people whose views you don't agree with start taking actions outside the law in the name of justice. Either you believe that the law is there for everyone, or you believe that any action taken in the name of perceived justice is fair and should be allowed. You don't get it both ways.
posted by hippybear at 12:57 PM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I would much rather have two strong attorneys arguing a case and let a jury decide innocence or guilt within the context of the law than have a graded system within which some killings are justified from the get-go.

No, I'm not advocating that. And let me say that, at the risk of sounding like the GOP, I don't have a very great idea about what the right way to proceed here would be. But I do think that laying a 50+ year sentence on the defendant from the get-go in this case is not great either. It seems like there is an undue burden on the DA. He can't argue innocence, he can only argue from the justification angle - so the 'law' is clearly on the side of the prosecutor and something seems, well, off about that. I almost think the burden should be on the police dept. to prove their innocence in tacitly bringing this about.

In any case, I really don't know what should be done. I'm not a lawyer nor a legal expert. This just seems extremely backasswards to me.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:58 PM on March 25, 2010


I fear we're very close to forgetting that in this country... close to forgetting that the point of the law is not to make money or even to incarcerate criminals, but to provide fair and reasonable justice so the people don't have to.

Can I get an amen?
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:59 PM on March 25, 2010


What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? … And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s, and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
posted by Samuel Farrow at 1:02 PM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


Is it just me, or did vorfeed justify all the tea party actions against members of congress that we've seen in the past few days since health care was passed?


No no. Your conflating things that are not at all analogous. The tea party is committing violent acts against select legislators because they disagree with the way they voted on a policy issue. That is hardly anything like the circumstances of this case. Perhaps they share a similar pedagogy, but it stops there. It would be utterly pointless to list all the reasons why that is a hyperbolic and false analogy, so I won't (and I think you know that).
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:06 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lutokowski: and you were earlier comparing this case to deaths in Iraq? That's pretty much also a false analogy. At least the actions I'm referring two are 1) all domestic and 2) all being done outside of a theater of war.
posted by hippybear at 1:10 PM on March 25, 2010


I can't tell if you're being colloquial (or something) by saying "the definition", but in case you're not... no, that's very clearly not the definition of manslaughter, as a quick google search will tell you. Manslaughter is:

Yeah, I was sort of being colloquial, I guess: I knew that, actually, but in practice, isn't manslaughter what you charge, say, a woman who stabs her husband while he's in the middle of beating the shit out of her? Or if you kill your friend when your gun accidentally fires? They both fall under "no malicious intent", I suppose. I don't know. My understanding of the legal system is limited to what I've skimmed from police procedural TV shows, and I'll admit that.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:11 PM on March 25, 2010


"referring two"???

Jeez. fingers undermine me at every turn. "referring to" thankyouverymuch
posted by hippybear at 1:15 PM on March 25, 2010


The grousing about vigilantes misses the point here, really. Vargas is not campaigning for society to condone what he did. Vargas rather appears to have been driven to the edge and, having been utterly failed by what is often charitably referred to as "the justice system", he took a final and tragic step over the line. While I'm sure he would rather avoid jail time if possible, he was most likely aware of the consequences he would have to face, and still decided to shoot that man. It is useless to debate whether we should condone this or not: part of the very definition of crimes like the one he committed is that they are driven by desperation, in spite of the mechanisms society would rather use, and because those mechanisms sometimes fail. This will continue to happen whether people like Vargas are fried on the chair, locked up forever or given 5 years and a slap on the wrist, until we eliminate the factors that cause them to be denied justice and left alone to deal with the aftermath of abuse they couldn't possibly defend against. That seems to me a much more relevant point to discuss when incidents like this one occur.

Also, and I didn't want to get into it because really this ain't about vigilantes dammit, but it is highly questionable whether Vargas can even be called a vigilante. This wasn't a bunch of people forming a posse and taking it upon themselves to go around the neighborhood and hang shoplifters, or whatever. The guy didn't set out to fight crime. He didn't wake up one morning and decide that somebody must step up and set the world's course straight, and it might as well be him. Quite simply, he was subjected to extreme abuse and snapped when society failed to provide him with substantial relief from it. Again, to compare his actions to teabagger antics or post oh-so-pithy quotes about the dangers of doing away with the rule of law is almost laughably beside the point and, frankly, rather lacking in empathy. I can barely hear your academic sophistry over the cry for help of a fellow human being who figures spending the rest of his life in jail is an OK price to pay to get his pain through to us.
posted by mindwarp at 1:26 PM on March 25, 2010 [10 favorites]


Vigilante justice isn't justice.

Well I guess sometimes life just ain't fair
posted by nola at 1:32 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think comparing this case to the Iraq war is a false analogy at all; these are two cases of ostensibly justified murder. In the case of the former, we have one man who killed one known criminal who had committed egregious acts against the killer without any kind of legal intervention, despite attempts. In the latter case, you have the murder of thousands of innocent people for the 'benefit of the greater good' - the 'just' war - for reasons which were nebulous at the start and have now been all but completely discounted. In the first case, the man will be prosecuted because he is subject to the law, no matter how ill-fit it may be to address this particular situation. In the latter case, no one will be prosecuted because the United States government can simply claim 'it's the theatre of war' (that old excuse Americans so readily eat up without skepticism) and suddenly the very laws of their own land no longer apply. If we ignore the law as it's written for a moment, which of these murders is actually more justified? The law - and how people, government or no, should be punished - should reflect this, not the arbitrary nonsense we've been brainwashed to accept. Theatre of war? Fuck that.

Funny enough, the targeted killing of only the unequivocally guilty and those threatening the safety of the innocent is exactly what the US government wishes it could do in Iraq.

To paraphrase an earlier statement I made: when the murdered aren't white, far away, and murdered by the thousands, it's easy to justify and pacify the objections of the people for the vaguest of reasons. But when there is only one murdered, and one of our own, even the most rational of reasons for killing has no weight on the murderer's fate.

The government and the people are not, at least in theory, separate entities. Laws are supposed to reflect and protect the rights, liberties and values of the people. In both of these cases, the law does neither and yet one will still be punished. It's stupid.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:39 PM on March 25, 2010


I think Aaron Vargas did what he did in full knowledge of what the probable legal penalty for his actions would be, accepted that this would be the outcome of his actions, and proceeded. He evaluated what he considered the benefits of killing McNeil (personal, social, moral) versus the costs (life in prison for him), decided in favour of killing McNeil, and killed McNeil.

Arresting him, convicting him for murder and imprisoning him isn't unfair, it's perfectly fair. It's what Vargas accepted before he killed McNeil as a reasonable price to pay for vengeance, justice, what-have-you.

On preview, see mindwarp, above.
posted by Shepherd at 1:41 PM on March 25, 2010


This will continue to happen whether people like Vargas are fried on the chair, locked up forever or given 5 years and a slap on the wrist, until we eliminate the factors that cause them to be denied justice and left alone to deal with the aftermath of abuse they couldn't possibly defend against. That seems to me a much more relevant point to discuss when incidents like this one occur.

Well said, mindwarp.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:41 PM on March 25, 2010


"it's pretty clear that this is an extraordinary situation - the "mechanisms" had failed in the worst way, and this was a last resort. "

I'm not so sure how I think/feel about this without hella citations. Which part is extraordinary? The part where one pedophile has numerous victims? The part where victims don't/won't come forward? The part where victims are failed by the justice system -- law enforcement or jury-side? Or the part where -- as i think McNeil's daughter referenced -- victims become abusers? Or maybe the part where treatment for pedophilia (still, i think?) is lacking?

I'm not arguing that there isn't a severe moral and ethical quandary here, stemming from one person's extraordinary actions.

*emphasis does not imply endorsement
posted by Sweetdefenestration at 1:57 PM on March 25, 2010


I don't think comparing this case to the Iraq war is a false analogy at all

And those committing vandalism or making threats against the lives of Congress members also feel justified in their actions.

See, that's the problem. Once you start justifying any extra-legal actions, then it's hard to draw the line in the sand. You claim that the death of innocent people in the context of war is somehow equivalent to a single premeditated (and possibly cruel, considering the man was allowed to slowly bleed out and die) murder in a peaceable US town, and I think that saying that one person's murder due to childhood abuse being excused as valid is the same as letting outraged tea party members claim that their violence against elected officials who have voted against their perceived interests.

You can continue to consider your false equivalency as valid, as I will continue to consider mine.
posted by hippybear at 2:02 PM on March 25, 2010


It's actually much better for the rule of law for prosecutors to decline to pursue cases like these, or to bring a lesser charge, than for juries to nullify the charges. Prosecutors exercising their discretion does not at all mean "a crime was not committed here." It can happen for all kinds of reasons, among them that some extra-legal mitigation was present.

That said, if I were on the jury, and first-degree murder was my only choice, I'd refuse to convict.
posted by palliser at 2:31 PM on March 25, 2010


Vargas needs jail time and therapy. A little of the former -- because yeah, we can't have people solving their problems with the barrel of a gun, no matter how badly they've been failed -- and a lot of the latter, because man, that poor dude.

What should he be convicted of? Well, I'm not a lawyer, but I'd say somewhere in between voluntary manslaughter, mitigated by provocation or diminished capacity, and unlawful discharge of a weapon.
posted by KathrynT at 2:33 PM on March 25, 2010


Because you can't have the attitude that "when people don't have justice, they will make some", and then complain when people whose views you don't agree with start taking actions outside the law in the name of justice. Either you believe that the law is there for everyone, or you believe that any action taken in the name of perceived justice is fair and should be allowed. You don't get it both ways.

This is not "an attitude". It's a fact. I said nothing about whether vigilante justice is "fair" or "should be allowed", simply that it happens whenever and wherever the law fails in systemic ways.

A just system would be more than concerned about this; a just system would look to its own policies for the cause of such a blatant breakdown of order, rather than simply cracking down harder on anyone who makes the disorder obvious. Too bad we don't have a just system.

As far as I'm concerned, this guy should face the consequences of what he did... but 50-to-life is ridiculous. Any sane system would hit him with a reasonable punishment, take the money it saved on decades of incarceration, and use it to fund an investigation into how and why this mess was allowed to happen in the first place, and what can be done to keep it from happening ever again.

Instead, he's being punished with the maximum for making the justice system look bad, after which it will immediately return to being bad. Wonderful.
posted by vorfeed at 3:05 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why is the DA seeking 50 years to life?

I'm going to assume, here, that everyone involved recognizes what's going on and how the system failed, and has at least some sympathy for Mr. Vargas. I am also going to assume that Mr. Vargas must be prosecuted in the spirit and the letter of the law, and that failure to do so carries a risk of other killings justified by unproven-in-a-court-of-law (and therefore potentially nonexistent) past molestation.

So, if I'm the DA, I'm going to go for 50-to-life, the maximum possible penalty, in order to make it harder for me to succeed in my prosecution. That way, if I don't succeed, he goes free, and if I do succeed, I'll be able to sleep at night knowing I put him away by thinking "well, if the judge/his peers felt such a strong punishment was justified, it must be justified."

I'm probably wrong, though.

Meanwhile, whatever the outcome of this, at least he feels like he made the ultimate sacrifice to protect his daughter, so at least there's that. It isn't much consolation, I'm sure.
posted by davejay at 3:17 PM on March 25, 2010


He committed a crime, he had a good reason, but he still broke a law.

Stealing food to feed the hungry is commendable, but still illegal.

Obviously there was a problem with the legal system since this man was able to get away with what he had done. I don't really understand why there is such a thing as a statue of limitations since actions committed never go away. He would have done more good with trying to rewrite the statue of limitations law rather than killing a man in cold blood.

For murder he deserves to go to jail, there really is nothing else to it.
posted by Allan Gordon at 4:12 PM on March 25, 2010


"Why is the DA seeking 50 years to life?"

The penalty to Vargas for killing McNeil, if McNeil's death resulted from a single, impetuous gun shot, which was followed by a reasonable attempt to get the shot man medical care, might reasonably be some form of manslaughter, or negligent homicide. But Vargas shot McNeil once with a low powered, black powder .44 cap and ball pistol, and then prevented his wife from calling help for 1/2 hour, while he watched the man die.

That's cold. That's relishing your target's suffering, perhaps in an attempt to get retribution for hurts your target visited upon you previously. That armed interference and delay of assistance goes to motive, and to premeditation, and the continuing state of mind of Vargas throughout the commission of the crime, and the kind of death McNeil died. Hell, most men would put a second shot, a coup de grâce, into a rabid dog, a minute or so after it was clear the first shot didn't kill outright.

Vargas' armed interference after he shot McNeil, and prevention of assistance to McNeil, for fully half an hour are probably the reasons the prosecutor is looking for 50 years.
posted by paulsc at 4:17 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


And those committing vandalism or making threats against the lives of Congress members also feel justified in their actions.

You seem to consider the repeated rape of a child over years - something which almost all people find abhorrent and is a serious crime - somehow comparable to a Congressperson doing their job and voting for a bill.

Is this what you're arguing?

At some point, your underlying moral sense, if you have one, has to come into play, and you have to make a judgement call. If your judgement is so blind that you really think a person revenging himself on an individual who tortured him for years is the same as someone murdering a complete stranger over a political disagreement then there's something wrong with you.

(For the record, I too think he should be charged with manslaughter and get a moderate sentence...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:51 PM on March 25, 2010


Eh, I wouldn't be surprised if the jury decides not to convict.
posted by delmoi at 4:57 PM on March 25, 2010


I just wanted to jump in one more time to say that I know for a fact that hippybear has a very good moral sense. All questions of the validity of analogies aside, which I fear have obscured the point and caused controversy where there isn't, I think we can agree that this is a very difficult case and one which brings to light many of the egregious shortfalls of our justice system.

Vargas will face punishment, though I hope for the sake of him, his family, and legal precedent that it is reasonable and not harsh. He doesn't deserve to spend years in prison, no matter what the law says.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:24 PM on March 25, 2010


Lutoslawski--> Utterly absurd. "The law is the law because it is the law" is a dangerous road to go down, imho.

Actually, the law is the the law because it is the law. If you've got a problem with the law or how law enforcement does its job, change the law and reform law enforcement. We have mechanisms explicitly designed for it (which are also called laws). Anything else and you're advocating for Mogadishu.

Elsewhere you've argued that this should be seen an opportunity to fix what went wrong for Vargas. That's true; it should be. But first, Vargas should be tried for his crime and sentenced if convicted.
posted by notyou at 5:34 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


That must have been an interesting half hour.
posted by koeselitz at 6:23 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


ericb: “Shouldn't the FPP read: ‘...have rallied together in support of justice for the victim suspect...’?”

(No, er - read it again. I think the intended effect is: "rallied in support of the victim. But he's not who you think," as in "the victim is not who you think." Like, the suspect's the victim, even though you wouldn't think that.)
posted by koeselitz at 6:26 PM on March 25, 2010


You seem to consider the repeated rape of a child over years - something which almost all people find abhorrent and is a serious crime - somehow comparable to a Congressperson doing their job and voting for a bill.

Is this what you're arguing?


No, it's not what I'm arguing, and you know it's not.

My arguments throughout this thread have been consistent -- if you believe that it is okay for people to take the law into their own hands, then you have a vast forest of implications attached to that belief. And drawing the line as to what is justified and what is not quickly becomes murky. And just because you don't think someone's actions are justified does not mean that others don't see it that way. That is why we have laws, and why the best way to handle any such actions by anyone, regardless of circumstance, is through applications of the laws and not by showing up at someone's door with a gun and shooting them and then watching them die.

Again, I think it's up to the defense attorneys to create doubt in the jury's collective mind that this killing meets the measure put forth by the prosecution. If a convincing case can be made in that pool of people, then he will not be put away for 50-to-life. I think any defense attorney worth his/her salt can do this under these circumstances. And I continue to remain loathe to say that he should be given leniency because of the circumstances before even entering court. If there are no statutes in the law which say "if someone was abusing you as a child and you kill that person, you can be tried at sentencing level Y instead of sentencing level X", then we need to stick with the laws in place.

Don't like how the law is structured? Then work to change it.
posted by hippybear at 6:31 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


The tea party is committing violent acts against select legislators because they disagree with the way they voted on a policy issue. That is hardly anything like the circumstances of this case.

You know that, and I know that, but do the Teabaggers know that? The problem with vigilante justice is that the standard of what constitutes a justifiable retributive action is apt to vary wildly from person to person. It's impossible for system of vigilante justice to be consistent and fair. It's also impossible for a codified system of justice to be consistent and fair, of course, but the one we've got is mostly working and for the time being I think it's worthwhile to defend it.

I sympathize with Vargas and hope he gets a lenient sentence, but I think the DA would be making a mistake to totally drop the charges.
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 6:48 PM on March 25, 2010


Hell, most men would put a second shot, a coup de grâce, into a rabid dog, a minute or so after it was clear the first shot didn't kill outright. :

-The French pronunciation of the phrase is [kudə ɡras], but many English speakers pronounce it /ˌkuː deɪ ˈɡrɑː/ which in French is spelled "coup de gras" and would mean something like "blow of fat."

That is excellent.
posted by flaterik at 10:54 PM on March 25, 2010


"Actually, the law is the the law because it is the law. If you've got a problem with the law or how law enforcement does its job, change the law and reform law enforcement. We have mechanisms explicitly designed for it (which are also called laws). Anything else and you're advocating for Mogadishu."

Well, no.

It'd be too facile to rebut with King and civil disobedience, though the point that laws are not inherently just is implicit. In this case, the laws are generally just, but the lack of enforcement caused a real risk. This is more about justifiable homicide than civil rights.

So then, the point that you and hippybear need to address is "How justifiable was this?" Luckily, we also have a legal mechanism to decide this—a jury trial. All of the teabaggers and Mogadishu rhetoric is nonsense.
posted by klangklangston at 10:55 PM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am perfectly okay with people murdering people who tortured them for years and are now actively stalking them and threatening their child. I am 100% okay with it. I do feel bad for his wife.

Thirty minutes was sorta bad, but that compared to 25 years, it is a drop in the bucket. It is, in fact, relatively merciful.

That's not really me accepting vigilante justice in all cases. I do accept it in this case, and I see it as at least partially self-defense.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:03 PM on March 25, 2010


magnificent frigatebird: "You know that, and I know that, but do the Teabaggers know that?"

Just because people apply a principle incorrectly doesn't mean that the principle has no validity.

Some people drive cars on the sidewalk because they are bizarre, profoundly mistaken, or sociopathic. Doesn't mean that no one should drive cars because then we would "be like them".
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:05 PM on March 25, 2010


Vigilante justice isn't justice

Why not?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:43 AM on March 26, 2010


This isn't vigilante justice. This is just what happens when the police don't do their jobs. It can be established that the police were aware of McNeil raping children for years and didn't even try to stop it. If it can be established that Vargas notified the police of McNeil's intentions to rape his daughter and they did nothing then I don't see why he shouldn't walk.
posted by Pseudology at 1:10 AM on March 26, 2010


I should add that even though McNeil's threats probably weren't enough to put him in jail, I'm sure they could have him locked up from all the previous rapes, including Vargas's. At this point they have no reasonable excuse for their inaction.
posted by Pseudology at 1:13 AM on March 26, 2010


Vargas needs jail time and therapy. A little of the former -- because yeah, we can't have people solving their problems with the barrel of a gun,

Vargas isn't a person, "solving [his] problems with...a gun," he's a person who solved *one* problem with *a* gun, presumably after resisting the urge for some time. This doesn't mean that no crime was committed, but don't just tar him as a wacko who can't stop pulling triggers.

Vigilante justice isn't justice.

It isn't not-justice, either.

the D.A. is seeking 50 years to life

The prosecutors' boss is up for re-election this year. It's the wrong time to expect her to tear the police a new one.
posted by rhizome at 11:05 PM on March 26, 2010


By the way, here's my opinion on this case. If anyone wants it, they're entitled to it:

This is a sad situation for all involved, and primarily because Aaron Vargas did something spectacularly wrong and, as he must have known, he will have to pay for it. We don't live in a society that can allow such things, and to think that we do is a misunderstanding of everything the justice system is about. And I'd even go so far as to say that Aaron Vargas was being selfish when he shot McNeil the way he did.

What I mean is: it's hard to believe that Darrell McNeil never left the house. It's obvious, in fact, that he left the house all the time, that he was constantly coming and going at the houses of others. And it's obvious, as well, that many in the town had been victimized by him, and that there were plenty of people that Aaron Vargas had even talked to who were sympathetic to anyone who wanted McNeil dead.

So why shoot him in his own house, with his wife watching, and then surrender to police? Like I said, it's not a situation that's easy to think through, but doing it that way ends up being selfish. Your daughter has to grow up knowing that her daddy shot a guy – no matter what the guy did, that's a hard thing for a kid to grow up with. And your whole family has to live with the fallout.

Again, I have a hard time believing that Darrell McNeil was never alone, and that three or four guys would never have had a chance to put a bullet in his head and put the body where it wouldn't be found. The injustice of the situation is that now, the way things turned out, Aaron Vargas and his supporters have to ask the state to let someone get away with murder. Anyone who knows about politics knows that is (and ought to be) a very, very hard thing to ask the state to do.

Secrecy would've been harder on the guy (or guys) involved, who would've had to live with the secret and carry it to the grave, but it would've been the right thing for the community. By doing this out in the open, I think Aaron Vargas showed that he really wanted to make a declaration of it – and unfortunately, as purgative as that might be in the moment, it's not worth it.
posted by koeselitz at 10:00 AM on March 27, 2010


Oh, and by the way – I am not so concerned about Vargas, and I'm not so certain the DA actually wants the 50 years to life that's being sought. These things happen all the time; DAs make a show of asking for something extremely strict knowing they won't get it. I have no idea what's actually going on at the ground level there (none of us really do) but I do believe that, if the DA wanted fantastic lenience for Vargas, she would do precisely the same thing she's doing now.

What exactly do people want her to do – hold a press conference and declare that it's okay to murder somebody as long as they've done something bad? Of course she has to make a show of going after the guy. That's what DAs are supposed to do. The unwritten rule is that DAs always make a show of going after the murderer. It's just that they happen to go after him a bit less - er - effectively in situations where they feel as though he's not as guilty as all that.
posted by koeselitz at 10:07 AM on March 27, 2010


You can to go www.SaveAaron.com for more info on this case.
posted by travelnut15 at 1:03 PM on March 30, 2010


Aaron suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. That is why he never reported his abuser. McNeill was reported 3 other times. Aaron was aware of this. Aaron was defending himself and his child.
posted by travelnut15 at 1:03 PM on March 30, 2010


The DA isn't seeking 50 years to life in hopes that he won't get convicted of that charge. The jury could always convict him of a lesser charge.
posted by travelnut15 at 1:04 PM on March 30, 2010


Update:

In a last-minute bargain struck with the Mendocino County district attorney, the 32-year-old Fort Bragg handyman pleaded no contest in Superior Court to voluntary manslaughter. In exchange, he will serve no longer than 10 years in prison - and may walk free on probation, thanks to time already served.
posted by granted at 2:25 PM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


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