General Crime

Joseph Mario Varela 15 years old charged as adult for new years eve murder of Damien Wadell Toney in Santa Rosa

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A 15-year-old boy was charged as an adult in Sonoma County Superior Court this afternoon with the shooting murder of a Santa Rosa man at a Santa Rosa apartment complex on Tuesday morning. Joseph Mario Varela, of Santa Rosa, is charged with killing Damien Wadell Toney Jr., 20, of Santa Rosa at the apartment complex at 2001 Piner Road. Varela also is charged with inflicting great bodily harm or death and personal use and intentional discharge of a firearm.

Because he was 14 or older at the time of the murder, he can be directly charged as an adult without having a hearing on the issue in juvenile court. “We have filed this murder charge as an adult case because we believe it appropriately reflects the seriousness of the charged offense, the sophistication of the alleged conduct, and will ultimately best provide for the interests of public safety,” Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said. Ravitch said Varela also can also be charged as an adult if he is charged with personally using a firearm in the commission or attempted commission of a felony.

“Both these grounds are alleged in the criminal complaint against Varela,” Ravitch said. Varela did not enter a plea. Sonoma County Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi asked Judge Dana Simonds to set Jan. 17 for possible entry of plea. Santa Rosa police found Toney lying on the ground near a parking area at the apartment complex when they arrived around 2 a.m. Tuesday. Toney had bullet wounds in the torso and arm, Santa Rosa police Sgt. Dave Linscomb said.

Toney was treated at the scene and taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital where he died. Interim Chief Deputy District Attorney Alexander McMahon said police recovered a semi-automatic handgun. Witnesses told police the shots followed a disturbance or dispute at a party inside an apartment and continued outside, Linscomb said. After the shooting, Varela fled and hid in the residence of an acquaintance nearby, Linscomb said. Varela was arrested on Tuesday. He is being held under no bail in juvenile hall.

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