BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The trial of a young man accused in the brutal slaying of a local attorney opened Wednesday with 911 calls reporting a bloodied man banging on doors and grisly photos showing the extent of his injuries.
Each of the cuts inflicted to the neck of Marcos Vargas were deep, prosecutor Eric Smith told jurors Wednesday, some of them measuring 2 inches. Blood covered Vargas’s bedroom and the sidewalk outside his apartment on Hosking Avenue, where he ran frantically door to door seeking help in the last moments of his life.
First responders arrived within minutes, but by that time the 26-year-old had collapsed and died. His killer, Smith said, had already driven from the apartment complex and was making his way onto Interstate 5.
DNA evidence, cellphone data and information retrieved from a dating app all tie Nicholas Quintana, 22, to the killing, Smith said during his opening statement. It’s alleged Quintana agreed to meet Vargas for a sexual liaison then stabbed and robbed him.
Quintana is charged with first-degree murder with special circumstances of lying in wait and means of torture. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted. He’s also charged with robbery and transportation of an assault weapon, the latter charge stemming from his arrest months after the slaying and unrelated to Vargas’s death.
After Quintana’s May 3, 2018, arrest, police searched his Chevy Cruz and found a gun with an obliterated serial number shoved behind a speaker box. A ski mask and gloves were also found, Smith said.
Jurors will hear testimony from detectives about the MeetMe dating app where Vargas interacted with a user called “Nate” who was identified as Quintana, Smith said. They’ll hear from witnesses describing how Vargas’s cellphone, taken from his apartment, was tracked by cell towers from Hosking Avenue south on Interstate 5 to Long Beach, where Quintana’s girlfriend lives.
Investigators recovered the phone from a storm drain two blocks from the girlfriend’s home, Smith said.
DNA evidence will include a can of Bud Light the prosecutor said is especially important because Vargas bought the beer that evening. Quintana’s DNA can’t be excluded from the can, he said.
Timothy Hennessy, Quintana’s attorney, asked the jury to keep an open mind and hear him through to the trial’s end. Without laying out too many details, he said both Quintana and Vargas had secrets — and Vargas’s secrets ran deeper.
The attorney noted Quintana was 19 at the time of Vargas’s death, and that Vargas in the MeetMe messages promised him alcohol and “memorable oral sex.”
“Mr. Quintana is not a murderer, he’s a kid with a secret,” Hennessy said in his opening statement.
The first witnesses called were former co-workers of Vargas at Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance. They described him as an optimistic, happy man who was proud to be an attorney. He pushed for them to take on cases they normally wouldn’t, and provide as much help as possible to the immigrant community.
Carol Bracy testified Vargas was “one of the most loved people in the office,” and Claudia Lopez said he wanted to become the best attorney he could. Lopez said she spent many lunch hours with Vargas but when they talked about their personal lives he chatted about his immediate family. She said she heard he’d been dating a woman in Riverside.
Two police dispatchers were also called to the stand Wednesday morning, and Smith played 911 calls where Vargas’s neighbors reported someone banging on their doors, one of the callers saying she opened her door and didn’t see anyone but found a large amount of blood on the ground.
When police arrived, a couple people were standing by Vargas’s body. Senior Officer Steven Glenn said he checked but couldn’t find a pulse. He and other officers set up a crime scene and the investigation began.
The trial is expected to last about a week.