A man convicted of murder and other charges stemming from a crash that killed a Los Angeles police officer and injured his partner in the Harbor City area more than four years ago was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Superior Court Judge James D. Otto denied the defense’s motion for a new trial for Mynor Enrique Varela, 25, who was convicted in August of second-degree murder and vehicular manslaughter for the May 3, 2014, early morning crash at Anaheim Street and Senator Avenue.
The first jury to hear the case against Varela found him guilty in April 2017 of two counts of assault on a peace officer and one count of leaving the scene of the crash, but deadlocked on the murder and vehicular manslaughter charges that were heard by the second jury this summer.
Deputy District Attorney Geoff Lewin told jurors during the first trial that Varela used his SUV to try to stop the officers, who were trying to make a U-turn to pursue a vehicle being driven by one of Varela’s friends. Lewin said the prosecution was not contending that it was an intentional murder, but someone acting in disregard of a dangerous situation.
The prosecutor called it “shocking” that Varela drove toward the patrol car in his Chevrolet Tahoe after the officers began to chase his friend’s Chevrolet Camaro.
The jury in the final trial also found true allegations that Varela knew or should have known that the murder victim, LAPD Officer Roberto Sanchez, was engaged in the performance of his duties as a peace officer and that Varela personally used a deadly and dangerous weapon — his SUV — along with an allegation that he fled from the scene of the crash.
Sanchez, a 32-year-old newlywed who had been on the police force for six years, was pronounced dead about two hours after the crash, and his partner, Richard Medina, suffered a broken jaw and other injuries.
“Not only was he my partner but best friend,” Medina told the judge. “We shared a lot of laughs both on and off-duty, but they were cut short that night.”
The victim’s brother-in-law, Jesse Carbajal, called Sanchez a central figure in their family and said his death has left a permanent void. He said his sister, Sonia, planned to have children with her husband and now feels the pain of life without him.
The judge called it “a very tragic case for all concerned.”
“It’s very serious for the defendant who made what appears to be a bad choice,” Otto said. “Only he knows (why) and he chose not to share it with us. … When you make decisions, there are consequences.”
Defense attorney Regina Filippone, who did not represent Varela during his retrial, told jurors in his first trial that the crash was an unavoidable tragedy and that the case was about Varela and “1.2 seconds in his life.”
Most people need 1.5 seconds to perceive and react to a dangerous situation, she said, telling jurors that Varela had just 1.2 seconds to react as the patrol car began to make a U-turn and that her client swerved to the left to try to avoid the impending collision.
“He could not have avoided this accident,” Filippone told jurors last year. “It’s a tragedy. It’s horrible, but it’s an accident … There was no hatred of the police. There was no reason for him to take his pride-and-joy truck and ram a police car, none.”
Varela’s current attorney, H. Russell Halpern, told the judge his client intends to appeal his conviction.
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