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Local News

Witness Testimony Turns Emotional in Vargas Murder Trial

Jurors hear from an eyewitness and a friend and former roommate of victim Vincent Velasquez, stabbed multiple times last May in Isla Vista

Monday proved to be an emotional day in court as the murder trial of Benjamin Vargas continued in Superior Court Judge George Eskin’s courtroom.

Vargas is on trial and facing murder charges after 26-year-old Vincent Velasquez was stabbed multiple times during an early morning altercation in Isla Vista last May.

The trial began last week, and Monday’s session allowed jurors to hear from two witnesses.

Jerri Contreras was the first to take the stand and recalled watching the fight occur outside the window of her Isla Vista apartment.

The fight took place on the street and sidewalk in front of the building where Contreras lives on Abrego Road, and defense attorney Ron Bamieh focused much of his effort on pointing out the ways that Contreras’ view was obscured from her second-floor window. He noted that a large tree partially blocks the window, and the lighting on the street is dim.

Contreras said she had already gone to bed the night of the murder and was awake when she heard noises outside of her home. She recounted looking out the window to see two figures, one on top of the other, with the one on top punching. She said the larger person on top struck the smaller person about nine times.

Because of the poorly lit street, Contreras said she couldn’t tell what nationality they were, the color of their clothing or even the gender of the fighters. She also testified that several large parties had been taking place that night, one directly next door, and she assumed the fights were from those partiers.

Contreras said she didn’t think much about the fight and didn’t call the police. She said she has worked at the apartment complex for three years, and “I thought it was a typical fight in Isla Vista,” she said. She reported that she could see blood spotting the sidewalk from her front door that night, but even then did not call the police. It wasn’t until the next day when police interviewed her that she learned there had been a stabbing.

Velasquez’s friend and former roommate, Raymond Velez, was also called to the stand on Monday by prosecutor Hans Almgren and provided some emotional testimony.

Velez reported that Velasquez and friend Aaron Desandro were hanging out at home, along with five women, when they all decided to party hop in Isla Vista.

Though not wanting to go out, Velez said he eventually relented and was a designated driver for the group, who had been drinking. The group filed into two cars, with a female designated driver taking the other group, and made their way to Del Playa Drive.

The group arrived around 10:30 p.m. and went to several parties. When they decided to go home around midnight, Velez said he went to retrieve his car. Velez and Desandro got the car and pulled up next to Velasquez, calling to him to get in the vehicle. He didn’t want to, Velez said, and the pair went back and forth for a couple of minutes. Velez said Velasquez had been drinking before he was stabbed, and that he became stubborn when drunk.

Velez reported that Vargas walked by with a girlfriend, and when Velasquez said, “Hey, what’s up?” to the man, Vargas reportedly turned on him.

“He told Vince, ‘Hey, don’t “what’s up” me. You don’t know me, homie,’” Velez recalled. He said he heard Velasquez say, “Keep on walking,” but the verbal exchanged soon turned to blows.

Velez said he looked into his rear-view mirror and saw Velasquez and Vargas go down, with his girlfriend also hitting Velasquez. Velez got out of the car and grabbed the girl’s arm. “Just let ‘em fight,” he told her.

He said he thought Velasquez was winning, until “Vince wasn’t fighting back,” he said. Velez said that’s when he intervened, pushing Vargas off the man. Vargas reportedly fled. Though Velez said he never saw a weapon, when he put his hands under Velasquez’s arms to try to leave with him, they were covered in blood.

“I screamed towards Aaron and said he got stabbed,” Velez said, his voice breaking. He began sobbing on the witness stand, with many in the courtroom also crying. Judge Eskin recessed the court so Velez could compose himself.

After the break, Almgren played the 9-1-1 tape from that evening for the jury. The tape recorded a frantic Velez as he and Desandro were speeding from Isla Vista to Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital with Velasquez in the car.

“My friend just got stabbed,” Velez says on the recording. “He’s bleeding really bad.” Velez also told the operator that Velasquez was attacked by gang members.

Bamieh spent about an hour on Monday afternoon probing whether Velez was a gang member or associated with gang members.

When Velez said no, Bamieh responded with a slew of photos of Velez’s Facebook friends, many of whom Velez himself said were acquaintances. Several were flashing what could be interpreted as a peace sign, but could also have gang implications, according to Bamieh.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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