Garden Grove man charged with beating 68-year-old neighbor to death after botched rape – NBC Los Angeles

After a night of heavy drinking, a Garden Grove man attempted to rape a 68-year-old neighbor and then beat her to death when he failed, a prosecutor told jurors on Tuesday, but the attorney of the defendant denied that his client attacked the victim, saying he was only trying to help him.

Michael Aon Varela is charged with murder with a special circumstance allegation of murder during an attempted rape. He is accused of killing Dzung Thi Nguyen on September 10, 2017.

Varela went to a local bar to watch a mixed martial arts fight on the night of Sept. 9, 2017, according to Deputy Senior District Attorney Dan Feldman. He returned home around 5 a.m. with a blood alcohol level of about 0.24, three times the legal limit, an expert is expected to testify, Feldman said.

The defendant’s father and his girlfriend, Allison Hogan, were awake and saw Varela shirtless and covered in blood with the victim on the lawn, Feldman said.

“The defendant was in an agitated state and said, ‘What? Do you think I did this? “, Feldman said.

Varela claimed he threw up in his Suzuki Sidekick when he saw the “grotesque scene” of the bloody victim, Feldman said.

“At 5 a.m. he tried to rape Ms. Nguyen and beat her to death,” Feldman said. “He tried to rape her and when he failed he beat her to death. It took her 11 days to die.”

When investigators drew blood from the suspect 12 hours later, his blood alcohol level was 0.05, Feldman said.

Two nearby homes had motion-activated video of the area, but the quality is blurry, Feldman said.

According to the prosecutor, Nguyen suffered from insomnia and therefore used to walk around the neighborhood before dawn, sometimes picking up recyclables. When first responders arrived on the scene, the victim was “not figuratively covered in blood, but literally covered in blood,” Feldman said.

The victim was taken to UC Irvine Medical Center for emergency surgery because his brain was bleeding so much that part of his skull had to be removed, according to Feldman.

Investigators found Varela’s DNA on an inner waistband of the victim’s underwear, Feldman said. His DNA is also found on some of the recyclables dumped at the crime scene, Feldman said.

The victim’s DNA was on the defendant’s Suzuki and they also found his genetic material on Varela’s penis, Feldman said. A single sperm was also found on the victim’s breast, but it was too small to determine if it was from Varela, Feldman said.

The victim’s top was pulled up, exposing her breasts at the crime scene, Feldman said. She suffered a broken nose and eye socket, the prosecutor said.

Varela’s attorney, Arlene Speiser of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, said her client “went home to live his worst nightmare.”

Varela had been sober for years until about a week before the murder, when he went out drinking with a close friend he met in college, Speiser said. She said Varela went out at 9 p.m. the night of the murder to watch the fight on TV, then went to another “dive bar” where he drank more alcohol.

“Michael is now very drunk and has blown $120,” the attorney said.

The defendant made the wrong choice to get back behind the wheel, she said, and arrived home when he saw the victim near his home, Speiser said.

“He drank too much, he feels bad,” Speiser said. “He’s sitting in his own vomit. … All he wants to do is come in and take a shower.”

Then he turns around and “makes a face of somebody and it doesn’t make sense,” Speiser said.

Friends of the defendant say he had a reputation for jumping up to help when needed, so his instinct was to help the victim, Speiser said.

“He goes out and sees the horror,” Speiser said. “He thinks it was one of the homeless women in the neighborhood.”

Nguyen’s husband had warned her that it was dangerous to go out for a walk in the middle of the night, especially when she was walking to nearby stores because there were many passengers in the area, Speiser said.

Varela dragged Nguyen to his own lawn, and when his dad came out of their front door, he “tells his dad that somebody in front is all screwed up,” Speiser said.

When her father asked her what happened, Varela replied, “I didn’t do that, I’m trying to help that woman,” Speiser said.

“He had no idea what happened to him,” Speiser said.

Varela didn’t run “because Michael has nothing to hide,” Speiser said.

The autopsy indicated that Nguyen may have been suffocated, but that was not the cause of death, Speiser said. She died from blows to the head, added the lawyer.

Speiser suggested there were clues investigators never followed up, including other people seen near the crime scene at the time of the attack. A bag of trash was found nearby along with two used condoms, and there was no DNA match to Varela, but they weren’t tested for a link to anyone else, Speiser said. .

The attorney said Varela was born and raised in Orange County and after high school joined the US Army. He was discharged from the military after two years when he was caught driving drunk and opened the wrong door to where he lived, Speiser said.

Varela enrolled in community college and was taking engineering classes, his attorney said.