A 15-year-old boy charged as an adult delayed entering a plea this afternoon in Sonoma County Superior Court to the shooting murder of a man at a Santa Rosa party last month. Joseph Mario Varela’s next court date is Jan. 27. Varela is charged with killing 20-year-old Damian Wadell Toney, of Santa Rosa, around 2 a.m. on Dec. 31 at a party in an apartment complex on Piner Road in Santa Rosa.
Toney died at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. He was found in a parking lot at the apartment complex suffering from bullets wounds to his arm and torso. Members of Varela’s and Toney’s family who attended this afternoon’s brief court session declined to comment on the incident. Neither Santa Rosa police nor the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office have disclosed details or a motive for the shooting.
A woman who said she is Toney’s mother said, “He was my son and he was loved. We’re still finding out what happened.” Varela is being held in juvenile hall, and Judge Dana Simonds approved a defense request to let Varela make two phone calls a week to his mother, who also visits him in the Sonoma County Juvenile Justice Center. Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said earlier this month her office is charging Varela as an adult because of the seriousness of the offense, the sophistication of the alleged conduct and because the murder charge best provides for the interests of public safety.
The state Welfare and Institutions Code allows a person 14 and younger to be charged in an adult court with murder, or if they are charged with personally using a firearm in the commission or attempted commission of a felony, Ravitch said. Both apply to Varela’s case, she said. Varela’s attorney Nathan Poulos said he wants the case sent to juvenile court.
He said young teens’ undeveloped brains are incapable of foreseeing the consequences of their actions until they are in their 20s. Poulos said juveniles as a group are the most capable of change and rehabilitation. “Everyone is still evaluating the case and I hope to have a conversation with the district attorney,” Poulos said.
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