A convicted sex offender pleaded no contest Monday to two counts of murder and is expected to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the killings of two young Southland boys within a five-year span.
Kenneth Kasten Rasmuson, 59, is scheduled to be sentenced April 27 at the Pomona courthouse.
Monday’s plea deal happened as Orange County prosecutors were expected to square off with Los Angeles County prosecutors regarding a proposed dismissal of special circumstances allegations that would have kept the defendant eligible for the death penalty and at least a life-without-parole sentence.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer made the highly unusual move earlier this month to charge Rasmuson for one of the murders, even though he was already facing trial for that murder in Los Angeles County. Spitzer’s prosecutors were poised to take over the Orange County-related murder if Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon wanted to drop the special circumstances allegations.
Spitzer said he charged Rasmuson with the July 2, 1981, killing of 6-year-old Jeffrey Vargo of Anaheim Hills because he was concerned that without the special circumstances allegations that Rasmuson, if convicted at trial, would someday get a parole hearing and a chance to be free.
“I am so relieved that now this is coming to a close,” Jeffrey’s mother, Connie, told reporters outside of the courtroom on Monday.
She said Gascon’s office planned to dismiss the special circumstances allegations “for this heinous crime, but now we know (Rasmuson’s) going to jail for the rest of his life… This case has gone on way too long.”
The sister of the other boy Rasmuson killed — 6-year-old Miguel Antero — said her family was “blindsided” by the plea deal. Enid Antero, who lives in New York, was traveling Monday when she was alerted to the no contest plea. A relative had to be rushed over to the hearing, she said.
“We weren’t expecting this at all,” Antero told City News Service. “It was almost like we were blindsided by the good news behind a dark cloud… We were expecting to go to court and get news of a trial date set.”
Antero and her mother favored the death penalty for Rasmuson but were happy to settle for life in prison without parole.
“All we ever wanted was for him to never be on the streets again,” Antero said.
She said her family grew angry with Gascon for the way he handled the case.
“But the outcome was a very happy surprise,” Antero said. “It’s relief, tears of joy, just tears of joy, crying. It’s a relief. It’s sadness and closure all in one.”
Gascon criticized Spitzer for wanting to pursue the death penalty.
“This was a heinous offense and this individual will not share the sidewalk with the rest of us,” he said. “The defendant was always facing life in prison, making the rhetoric from tough-on-crime voices incredibly dangerous and entirely removed from reality.
“Splitting this case up or seeking the death penalty in a state with a moratorium would have dragged the victims through decades of legal proceedings for an execution that is exceedingly unlikely to be imposed.
“Spending exorbitant amounts on a death penalty prosecution that is ultimately just for show would force the families of these victims to relive their trauma through decades of litigation. That’s not in the interests of the victims, nor is it in the interests of the public.”
Rasmuson was ordered to stand trial in Los Angeles County in August 2016 on charges of killing Jeffrey and Miguel, who was slain five years later.
Rasmuson was arrested in March 2015 in Sandpoint, Idaho, after DNA evidence allegedly linked him to the 1981 killing.
Enid Antero said she was at work at the time she got the call and found herself in the bathroom “just bawling.”
Miguel and his family lived in a “religious neighborhood” in Agoura Hills at the time. The boy was dropped off by the school bus down a narrow road from home when he was quickly snatched, his sister, who was 11 at the time, said.
Enid Antero said her little brother was especially generous and quiet.
“He loved to play, he was so kindhearted — he was my shadow,” she said. “His best friend were girls. He was probably going to be such a ladies man.”
Construction workers found the Jeffrey’s body in Pomona a day after the youngster left his home to visit a fireworks stand, according to authorities.
While Rasmuson was awaiting trial in that case, he was charged with the April 8, 1986, killing of Miguel, whose body was found in a wash in Agoura Hills the same day he was discovered missing from his home.
Rasmuson was also linked to that killing by DNA evidence, prosecutors said.
Rasmuson was facing special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and that the killings were done during the commission of a lewd or lascivious act on a child.
Rasmuson was previously convicted in 1981 of sexually assaulting another boy, prosecutors said.
Orange County prosecutors intended to let Los Angeles County prosecutors handle the case, but stepped in on Feb. 11 by filing a criminal complaint of their own because Spitzer believes the defendant should at least face life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Spitzer has also been a vocal critic of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s move to suspend the death penalty in the state.
In a court filing, Spitzer’s office argued that his office “has an interest in this case because the victim… was a resident of Orange County at the time of his murder. His parents and next-of-kin have remained residents of Orange County to the present.”
Spitzer’s prosecutors also noted the boy was kidnapped in Orange County and argued that Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, who took office in December, is not moving to dismiss the special circumstance allegations “because there are proof problems or because it would be fair and just to do so, but because of a series of special directives through which he endeavors to fundamentally change criminal procedure by way of executive fiat. His attempt to do in this case is manifestly contrary to the furtherance of justice.”
Rasmuson is accused of “horrific” crimes, according to the motion filed by Spitzer’s office.
“He kidnapped two young, vulnerable 6-year-old boys, sexually assaulted them, and murdered them,” the motion reads. “Defendant’s background, character, and prospects show he is a dangerous serial predator with no likelihood to ever change. He has served two prison terms for molesting an 11-year-old boy he lured into seclusion before sodomizing him and he abducted a 3-year-old boy from the boy’s front yard before later sodomizing him and leaving him wandering naked on a street the next day.”
Authorities found child pornography in the defendant’s possession when he was arrested in 2015, “and his internet history revealed multiple searches for child pornography,” according to the motion.
Two months after the Orange County victim was killed, Rasmuson “lured an 11-year-old boy into seclusion by asking him to help find his handicapped dog” in Santa Barbara, according to Orange County prosecutors. Rasmuson sexually assaulted the boy, who lied to his attacker that he liked it so he could get away, which worked, prosecutors said.
Rasmuson was sentenced to prison for the 1981 sexual assault, and when he completed that prison term, he was deemed a “mentally disordered offender,” Orange County prosecutors said. He was released from prison in 1985 and ordered to undergo sexual disorder treatment, and during this time he killed Miguel, prosecutors alleged.
A year later, Rasmuson abducted a 3-year-old boy from the front yard of his Los Angeles home and drove away. The boy was found naked the next day, wandering on the side of a road, and Rasmuson was eventually convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison.
After Rasmuson served his time, he was designated a sexually violent predator and was committed to the Atascadero State Hospital. He was released in 2007.
Rasmuson “admitted” to doctors that he had “committed at least 10 child molestations since age 18, a period of time in defendant’s life comprising only four and a half years of freedom from incarceration,” but was Orange County prosecutors alleged. “Defendant grabs unsuspecting children off the streets of their neighborhoods, or even from the front yards of their houses. He is brazen, impulsive, and unconcerned with the suffering of others, all of which make him highly dangerous.”
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