Last year, on a hot, muggy Labor Day home from school, four teenagers trudged through the overgrown weeds of a remote Montgomery County park, talking about drinking beer in a place where no one would see them. Only three came out alive.
The youngest, 15-year-old Kirill Varnovatyy, wasn't found until two weeks later. His body, badly decomposed and wrapped in a pastel bedsheet, emerged from a storm drain deep in the park and was found on a stream bank by youths riding mountain bikes. They thought they had happened upon the remains of a deer.
Varnovatyy, a high school sophomore, had been beaten, stabbed 28 times and almost decapitated.
Scant information about the slaying was released when it occurred, but Montgomery prosecutors now say the brutality of Varnovatyy's death was similar to the overkill they saw in the 1997 slaying of Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr., 19. Tello was killed, dismembered and set afire, allegedly by two of his acquaintances, Samuel Sheinbein and Aaron Needle.
Today, in a Montgomery County courtroom, the 16-year-old son of a D.C. police officer who pleaded guilty to killing Varnovatyy will be sentenced for first-degree murder. Prosecutors say Aaron Goldfarb, then 15, was one of the three teenagers who lured Varnovatyy into the park with promises of beer, then marched him at knifepoint for at least 45 minutes before stabbing him in a "frenzy" and slitting his throat.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case say they don't know why Goldfarb singled out Varnovatyy. Goldfarb's attorney, Harry Trainor, says his client's "rage" stems from years of sexual abuse at the hands of his father, Dovid Goldfarb, a sergeant with the D.C. police. Dovid Goldfarb is on unpaid leave from the force and is scheduled to stand trial in November in Prince George's County on charges of sexual abuse, according to police officials and court documents.
"That's not offered as any sort of an excuse," Trainor said, "just as an explanation for some of his behavior."
Montgomery's deputy state's attorney, Katherine Winfree, who spent 23 years as a federal prosecutor in the District, said Varnovatyy's death was the result of a rage she's never seen among people so young.
"I've seen dozens and dozens of murders," Winfree said recently, "and none of them were like this."
Kirill Varnovatyy was the only child of immigrants who arrived in the United States from Ukraine when their son was 9 years old. By last September, he had just started school at the newly opened Northwest High School in Germantown.
"What he did or didn't do was in his youthful effort to fit in as a new citizen," several of his neighbors said in a letter they wrote to prosecutors in August.
Varnovatyy was home with his grandmother on Labor Day 1998 when Goldfarb, whom he knew from school, and an older teenager Varnovatyy didn't know stopped by about 4 p.m., according to prosecutors. Goldfarb and Joseph Morrongiello, 19, said they were heading out to drink some beer and asked him along, prosecutors say. Varnovatyy told his grandmother he would be back in 15 minutes.
But prosecutors say Goldfarb had more than drinking beer in mind. He was in the mood to beat someone up and got Morrongiello to join him by telling him that Varnovatyy had criticized his girlfriend, prosecutors say.
As they pulled up to Quince Orchard Valley Park in a Gaithersburg neighborhood of two-story homes and lush lawns, they came upon Zachary Marshall, 16, who was on the way to see his girlfriend. Prosecutors say Goldfarb and Morrongiello invited him along, and the group started down the narrow, dirt path into the park.
The park sits off busy Great Seneca Highway and Quince Orchard Road, but a five-minute walk into the woods leaves no sign of houses and few, if any, people. The four were soon enveloped by a thicket of trees. On their right, a creek trickled past. The loudest sound was likely the crunch of twigs beneath their feet.
Somewhere along the way, prosecutors say, Varnovatyy pulled out his five-inch switchblade and passed it around.
After walking for about 15 minutes, prosecutors say, the four stepped off the path and into a more secluded area on the banks of the creek. The others had told Varnovatyy that's where they had hidden the beer. But there was no beer. Instead, prosecutors say, Goldfarb hit Varnovatyy in the head with a rock from the creek bed, and the other two joined in punching and kicking him.
After a few minutes, the three attackers walked off, leaving Varnovatyy sitting dazed by the creek and wrapping his T-shirt around his head to stem the bleeding.
"I can't take this beef," Goldfarb allegedly told the two others as they began to leave the park. "I've gotta go back and kill him."
Marshall and Morrongiello kept walking toward a bridge near the park's entrance, and when they got there, they smoked cigarettes and waited, prosecutors and defense lawyers in the case say. After about 15 minutes, they wandered back to look for Goldfarb.
They allegedly found him standing with a frightened-looking Varnovatyy.
"I can't do it," Goldfarb allegedly told the other teenagers. "He keeps moving."
At knifepoint, Goldfarb made Varnovatyy walk further into the park, to a small clearing of trees full of thigh-high weeds and yellow and white wildflowers, according to prosecutors. There, Goldfarb ordered Varnovatyy to sit next to a small, metal fence above the storm drain, prosecutors said. Morrongiello stood nearby as Marshall went over a nearby hill, where he could see if anyone was coming.
Then they told him to start counting.
Varnovatyy "was begging for his life all the way down here," Winfree said recently as she walked the path that the group took from the creek to the clearing. "He knew."
As Goldfarb repeatedly thrust the knife, Winfree said, Varnovatyy screamed out, "Stop! Don't burn me!"
Assistant State's Attorney Blair Berman, the other prosecutor on the case, said he believes the teenager was referring to the fiery sensation of his own switchblade piercing his body as he was stabbed from his chest to his ears.
As the final blow, prosecutors say, Goldfarb lifted the teenager's head by his hair, threw it back and slashed his throat.
Attorneys in the case say none of the three teenagers had serious criminal records or trouble in school beyond an occasional fistfight, cigarette or skipped class.
Marshall and Morrongiello each pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and face a maximum of 30 years in prison when they are scheduled to be sentenced in November.
Gary Crawford, a lawyer who represents Morrongiello, declined to comment.
Reginald W. Bours III, Marshall's attorney, insists that neither his client nor Morrongiello had any idea that they were heading into the park for anything more than a fistfight.
Staff writer Craig Whitlock contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Kirill Varnovatyy, 15, was beaten and stabbed in September 1998 in a Montgomery County park.
CAPTION: Prosecutors Blair Berman, left, and Katherine Winfree survey the drainage pipe where the body of Kirill Varnovatyy was placed after he was killed.