Sentencing is set Thursday for a man convicted of second-degree murder and other charges for a crash that killed a Los Angeles police officer and seriously injured his partner more than four years ago.
Mynor Enrique Varela, now 25, was convicted Aug. 31 of second-degree murder and vehicular manslaughter in connection with the May 3, 2014, early morning crash at Anaheim and Senator streets.
The jury 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.
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 but deadlocked on the murder and vehicular manslaughter charges.
Deputy District Attorney Geoff Lewin asked jurors during the first trial to determine if Varela decided to use his vehicle as a deadly weapon “not to kill” but to try to stop the officers, who were trying to make a U-turn to pull over a vehicle in which one of his friends had just made a U-turn.
When questioning prospective jurors last year as Varela’s first trial began, 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 took off after the patrol car in his Chevrolet Tahoe SUV after the officers began to chase his friend’s Chevrolet Camaro.
Varela — a certified nursing assistant who was wearing a cast on his right foot — fled the crash site and turned himself in to police nine hours later, Lewin said. Varela acknowledged to police that he had been driving the SUV and that he limped away from the scene, but denied knowing the Camaro’s driver, with whom he had been friends for about eight years, the prosecutor said.
After the verdict, Varela’s attorney declined to comment on the case.
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 is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole.
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