An Army veteran was convicted Thursday of beating an elderly woman to death while she was walking in a Garden Grove neighborhood where they both lived.
Michael Aon Varela, 36, was convicted of first-degree murder after a lengthy trial by an Orange County Superior Court jury of the “brutal attack, attempted rape and murder of 68-year-old Dzung Nguyen,” said Garden Grove police.
The jurors also determined that the murder occurred during an attempted rape, according to court records.
The murder took place on September 10, 2017, when officers responded to reports of a female down near 13432 Balos Drive around 5 a.m.
Arriving officers found Nguyen on the front lawn of a home, partially naked and with blunt-force trauma to her face.
Next to her, Varela was “found shirtless, covered in blood, with his pants fly unbuttoned and multiple injuries that appeared to be defense wounds on his body,” authorities said.
An initial investigation found Varela’s statements inconsistent with evidence found at the scene and he was placed under arrest.
Nguyen was transported to a local hospital and died from her injuries ten days later. She was known to enjoy long walks in the neighborhood while collecting recyclable items.
According to the Orange County Register, a drunken Varela “beat her and he brutalized her, ripped her clothes off and when she didn’t submit he continued to beat her until she went unconscious, became unresponsive and ultimately died several days later,’” Deputy District Attorney Casey Cunningham told jurors at the trial.
Nguyen’s DNA was found on Varela’s private parts and Varela’s DNA was found on Nguyen’s clothing, the O.C. Register reports. Varela was also found with scratches across his body, including on his arm, knee and above one eye.
Although the attack was not captured by security cameras, prosecutors said video captured the headlights of Varela’s approaching car around 4:38 a.m. that morning along with recyclables seen strewn across the street around 5:09 a.m. Investigators believed the attack happened within that time slot.
During the trial, Varela’s attorney acknowledged the suspect was drunk when he arrived home, after spending the night at bars in Fullerton and Stanton, the O.C. Register reported. At one point, the attorney said Varela tripped while leaving a bar at closing time and fell face-down on the pavement before vomiting on himself as he drove home.
Varela was born and raised in Orange County and enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school, according to City News Service. Two years in, he was discharged from the military after being caught drunk driving and opening the wrong gate to where he was living at the time.
The victim, Nguyen, was known around the neighborhood and described as a quiet, unassuming woman, officials said. She and her husband liked to wake up early and enjoy long walks in the neighborhood while gathering recyclable items they found along the way.
“Her life was unjustly cut short, in the most horrific of ways,” police said. “We hope this conviction brings closure and a small measure of peace to her loved ones.”
Varela’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.
Suggest a Correction