A 20-year-old Washington State man was sentenced to less than 3 years in prison for raping a high school student and texting semi-nude photos of her as she died from a drug overdose.
Snohomish Superior Court Judge Linda Krese said Thursday she could not sentence Brian Varela to more than two years and 10 months because it was the most prison time permitted for someone with no prior criminal record, The Daily Herald reported.
Varela had pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter, third-degree rape, and unlawful disposal of remains as part of a plea deal in the February death of 18-year-old Alyssa Noceda.
Varela told detectives that Noceda came to a party on Feb. 3 in Lynnwood. In Varela's room, he said Noceda snorted Percocet and also ingested liquid marijuana, court documents said. Tests later showed she had taken a fatal mix of fentanyl and alprazolam, a generic name for Xanax.
She collapsed within a minute of mixing the two, Varela told detectives. Authorities said Varela never sought help for Noceda and instead sent semi-nude photos of her to friends and texting "LOL, I think she od'd, still breathing."
Varela played an online game until he fell asleep, waking up in the morning to find Noceda with blue lips, foam coming out of her mouth and blood dripping from her nose.
He went to work at Dairy Queen and his co-worker contacted police in the following days after Varela said he didn't know if Noceda was still alive when he was having sex with her. Court records say he told a friend that "she died having sex with me."
Police arrested Varela later that day after executing a search warrant and finding Noceda's body in a plastic crate at the suspect's home.
Varela told investigators he planned to bury Noceda with onions to minimize the odor, police said. He also told detectives that after Noceda died, he used her thumb to unlock her phone Feb. 4 and send messages to make it appear she had run away.
In court Thursday, Varela said only, "I'm sorry for my foolish actions. Whatever I get is what I deserve."
Noceda's mother and aunt cried when they learned the likely sentence.
"You might as well let him walk free with that kind of time," Noceda's aunt, Rachelle Palmer said.
Judge Krese was "surprised, even outraged" to find herself bound to such limited sentencing, she was quoted as saying by The Daily Herald.
Krese said during the sentencing hearing that even some car theft cases garnered heavier sentences.
"I'm not sure the (state) legislature really contemplated something like this," she said.
Punishments for violent crimes are often downgraded in the U.S. due to a plea agreement or lack of criminal record.
Varela's plea deal lessened the manslaughter charge to a second-degree felony and the rape charge to a third-degree felony. First-degree manslaughter and rape charges would have warranted a 10-year prison sentence.
In 2016, the prominent case of Stanford University student Brock Turner sparked nationwide outrage and brought the issue of inadequate sentences to center-stage. Turner received a light, six-month jail term for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on the university campus.
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