Wed. Dec 7th, 2022

Michael Aon Varela, a Garden Grove man, is on trial this week for allegedly trying to rape Dzung Thi Nguyen, a 68-year-old neighbor, who died after the attack, which occurred on Sept. 10, 2017.



Nguyen had trouble sleeping at night so she habitually would walk around the neighborhood in the pre-dawn hours, sometimes picking up recyclables, according to the prosecutor.

Who will you vote for in the OC 2nd Supervisorial District?
Who will you vote for in the OC 2nd Supervisorial District?

Who will you vote for in the OC 2nd Supervisorial District?

Who will you vote for in the OC 2nd Supervisorial District?

Varela was watching MMA fights at a local bar on the night of Sept. 9, 2017, according to the OCDA prosecutor, Dan Feldman.

When Varela finally headed home, at about 5 a.m., he had a blood-alcohol level of about 0.24, which is three times the legal limit. It would take about nine to ten alcoholic drinks to reach that blood alcohol level according to this source.

Varela was seen by his father and his girlfriend at the time, Allison Hogan, as he was shirtless and allegedly covered in the victim’s blood, as he stood over her body on his lawn.

Feldman said that Varela was agitated and he said “What? Do you think I did this?”

The prosecutor provided this evidence against Varela:

  • Investigators found Varela’s DNA on an interior waistband of the victim’s underwear
  • The victim’s DNA was on the defendant’s Suzuki and they also found her genetic material on Varela’s penis.
  • A single sperm cell was also found on the victim’s breast, but it was too small to determine if it came from Varela
  • His DNA is also on some of the recyclables spilled at the crime scene
  • The victim’s top was pulled up, exposing her breasts at the crime scene
  • When investigators drew blood from the suspect 12 hours later, his blood-alcohol level was still elevated, at 0.05
  • Two neighboring homes had motion-activated video of the area, but the quality is murky

Feldman told the jurors that “At 5 in the morning he (Varela) tried to rape Mrs. Nguyen and beat her to death. He tried to rape her and when he was unsuccessful he beat her to death. It took her 11 days to die.”

Feldman also said that the firs-responders found the victim as she was literally covered in blood. She was taken to UC Irvine Medical Center for emergency surgery, as her brain was bleeding so much a portion of her skull had to be removed. She also had a broken nose and orbital socket.

Varela’s defense attorney, Arlene Speiser, of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, claims that Varela was trying to help the victim, not attack her. Varela even said that he vomited in his Suzuki Sidekick when he saw the “grotesque scene” of the bloody victim.

Ironically Varela had been sober for years until about a week before the killing, when he opted to go drinking with a close friend he met in college. Speiser said that Varela went out at 9 p.m. the night of the killing to watch the fight on TV and then went to another “dive bar” where he downed more alcohol.

Speiser admitted that at that point Michael was very intoxicated and had blown $120.

Speiser went on to say that Varela made the poor choice to get behind the wheel again and then said that as he arrived at home he saw the victim near his house.

Varela had drank too much, was feeling gross and was sitting in his own vomit, according to Speiser. All Varela wanted to do was go home and take a shower.

However at that point Varela saw a figure of someone and it did not make any sense to him. Speiser said that Varela’s instinct was to help the victim and that he had a reputation for jumping to help when needed.

Varela thought the victim was one of the homeless women in the neighborhood. For whatever reason he decided to drag Nguyen over to his own lawn. He then told his father that someone outside was all messed up.

When his father asked him what happened, Varela told him that he did not do it was was just trying to help the woman.

Nguyen had been warned by her husband that it was dangerous to go out for a walk in the middle of the night, especially when she wandered over to nearby stores because there were many transients in the area, according to Speiser.

On the evening of the attack Nguyen’s husband had no idea what had happened to her, Speiser told the jury.

Speiser also said that Varela did not flee from the scene that night because he had nothing to hide.

The autopsy apparently indicated that while Nguyen may have been choked, she died from repeated blows to the head, according to Speiser.

Speiser ultimately suggested that the police investigators failed to follow up on some important clues. She noted that other people had been seen near the scene of the crime at the time of the attack and that a bag of trash was found nearby with two used condoms in it. The DNA in the condoms did not match to Varela but apparently there was no effort made to link the DNA to anyone else.

Varela was born and raised in Orange County and after high school he signed up for the U.S. Army. He was discharged from the military after two years when he was caught driving drunk and opened the wrong gate to where he was living, according to Speiser.

Varela was also enrolled in a community college and was taking engineering classes prior to the alleged deadly attack.

By Editor

The New Santa Ana blog has been covering news, events and politics in Santa Ana since 2009.

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