Stephen Vargas has been convicted of first-degree felony murder for the Christmas holidays beating death of his wife last year.
An eight-member jury deliberated about four hours Thursday before returning the verdict. Vargas, who had been free on bail, was taken into custody and held for sentencing Dec. 19. He faces a prison term of five-years-to-life.The verdict came a day after what would have been Rebecca Vargas' 28th birthday.
Rebecca Vargas was found outside an apartment in the early morning hours of Dec. 28, 1995. She had been beaten on the head and bled to death in the cold. Her husband was charged several days after the murder.
Police and prosecutors contend Vargas killed the woman because she was going to divorce him. During the trial before 2nd District Judge Michael Lyon, Deputy Weber County Attorney Bill Daine presented a case that included the testimony of Vargas' brother, who said Stephen Vargas had asked him to kill the woman.
Several people, including Vargas' aunt, testified he told them he would kill his wife if she left him.
Evidence at the crime scene showed whoever killed her returned to the body at least twice. Vargas was seen the night of the slaying in the area where the woman's body was found.
And a pair of jail inmates claimed Vargas told them he had killed his wife.
Public defender Martin Gravis said he will seek a new trial, contending that police withheld evidence of an unidentified man seen lurking in the area.
Vargas at first presented an alibi, saying he had taken his wife and children to a movie. However, a baby sitter, who later recanted his testimony, said he baby-sat for the couple the night of the slaying.
Investigators said there was no sign of a rape or robbery. They also said they found it odd that, while Vargas was being held at the police station after the slaying, he never once asked about his wife's condition.
Also, blood on a leaf fragment found in the Jeep Vargas drove to the apartment that night bore blood matching the dead woman's DNA.
Defense attorney Martin Gravis countered by saying investigators focused on Vargas early in the investigation and failed to follow other leads in the case.
In closing days of the trial, two witnesses testified they saw a strange man in the area.
Gravis said Vargas' brother-in-law testified he heard a man's voice the night he and his wife, Melinda McLean, went to check on Rebecca.
Melinda McLean told detectives she thought she saw a shadow the night she went to check on her friend.
He pointed out inconsistencies in witnesses' stories and said detectives were not accurate in their reports.
And, Gravis said, detectives did not find blood on any of Stephen Vargas' clothing.