The teenager lying in Brian Varela’s bed had snorted “a fat line” of crushed Percocet. She seemed “really out of it” while Varela was having sex with her, he later told police, tilting his head and rolling his eyes to the back of his head to show detectives what he meant by “really out of it.”
Afterward, she snorted more Percocet, and then Varela gave the girl a hit of highly concentrated THC, according to a probable-cause affidavit.
She collapsed within seconds and never woke up. Varela grabbed his cellphone and did a Web search for “what to do if someone overdoses on perks.” The top search results told him to call 911, but Varela did no such thing; instead, he took pictures of the 18-year-old lying unconscious and half-naked in his bed, barely breathing.
He sent the photos to his friends in a group chat and bragged that he had sex with her, court records say.
“She looks dead,” one friend said.
“Bro you killed her,” the same friend said moments later.
Varela went on to play video games and then fell asleep.
He woke up the next morning to find foam coming out of the girl’s mouth. Blood had dripped out of her nose. Her body was cold.
Varela summoned his roommate and a friend, who checked the teen’s pulse and felt nothing. Call the police, his roommate told Varela — but again, he didn’t. He got dressed, locked his room and went to work in the Seattle suburb of Lynnwood.
Alyssa Noceda died sometime between that Saturday night, Feb. 3, when she came to Varela’s trailer for a party, and the following morning. Varela admitted to a friend that he wasn’t sure whether Noceda was alive or dead while he was having sex with her, court records say.
Varela, who was 19 at that time of Noceda’s death, was charged with first-degree manslaughter, second-degree rape and unlawful disposal of remains. He was sentenced last week after a plea deal and will spend less than three years in prison ― a punishment that many, including the judge presiding over the case, saw as far too lenient.
Even some auto theft cases had more serious penalties, Snohomish Superior Court Judge Linda Krese said during the sentencing hearing Thursday, according to a court transcript. But, she noted, she was bound by state law to keep the punishment to 34 months — the maximum allowed for the crimes to which Varela pleaded guilty and for someone without a criminal record.
“And I certainly can understand why the family and friends of the victim feel surprised and even outraged by the sentence that’s provided here. The behavior, Mr. Varela, you described as foolish, I think that that would be a gross understatement,” Krese said. “The behavior that I see described here is appalling. And I think one of the reasons that the law doesn’t really seem to adequately address what happened here is that, frankly, it is so beyond the pale, I’m not sure that the legislature really contemplated something like this.”
A seemingly lenient sentence for a violent crime such as rape is not unheard of. Punishments are typically lessened as a result of a plea agreement or lack of criminal history. In Varela’s case, his plea deal lowered the manslaughter charge to a second-degree felony, and the rape charge to a third-degree felony.
Among the most notorious recent cases is that of Stanford University sex offender Brock Turner, whose six-month jail sentence after a sexual assault conviction prompted nationwide outrage and the recall of the judge who imposed the punishment. A jury had convicted Turner of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on the edge of campus.
Sentencing disparities are not unheard of, either, even in cases that involve similar crimes. In 2016, a Montana man who repeatedly raped his 12-year-old daughter was sentenced to 60 days in jail after pleading guilty to one count of incest. That same year, a California man who repeatedly raped his teenage daughter was sentenced to 1,503 years in prison after a jury convicted him of 186 felony charges.
Toni Montgomery, a deputy prosecutor in Varela’s case, condemned him for his “complete disregard” for Noceda’s life. But “34 months is really the only sentence that would be appropriate, given the current sentencing structure,” Montgomery said in court, the Daily Herald reported.
Montgomery did not immediately respond to a request for comment but told the New York Times that Washington state does not typically criminalize neglecting to seek medical help for someone, unless they are that person’s parent, or the person is elderly, pregnant or a child. A first-degree manslaughter charge, which along with a rape conviction would have resulted in a 10-year prison sentence for Varela, would have been difficult to prove in a trial, Montgomery said, so prosecutors chose to negotiate a plea deal, she said.
“It sort of is beyond the pale morally, when you think about it,” Montgomery told the Times. “You can sit here and watch someone die and do nothing and the law cannot hold you criminally liable."
Paul Thompson, Varela’s attorney, also was not immediately available for comment. He told the Times that Varela was “sentenced to the high end of the crimes for which he was actually convicted.”
Standing next to his lawyer during his sentencing, wearing striped green-and-white prison garb, Varela, now 20, apologized for his “foolish actions.”
“Whatever I get is what I deserve,” he told the judge.
Sitting behind him were Noceda’s friends and family members, many of whom wore black T-shirts bearing a picture of Noceda between angel’s wings.
The teen’s mother, Gina Pierson, called the punishment “a joke.”
“Usually people who do stuff like this don’t get away with a slap on the wrist,” she told ABC affiliate KOMO News.
On Pierson’s Facebook page are several pictures and quotes about her daughter.
“Addiction is a disease, not a parenting error,” reads one quote.
On another post, she wrote: “My first LOVE..My first born💛RIP Ali Mae (Alyssa Noceda)💛 You were too damn good for this world...”
On Feb. 5, two days after Noceda went to Varela’s trailer, her mother posted on Facebook that she had not seen or heard from her daughter since 8 p.m. on Feb. 3, court records say. At that time, her daughter’s body was still in the trailer.
On Feb. 4, after returning home from work at a Dairy Queen, Varela washed Noceda to rid her body of his DNA and put some of her clothes back on, court records show. He then placed her body in a large plastic crate he had gotten from his mother’s house, breaking her leg to fit her in the box, records say.
Two days later, Varela was arrested after a co-worker Varela had told about Noceda’s overdose contacted police. Officers found the teen’s body in the box, still inside the bedroom. Varela had planned to bury her that day, he told detectives.
Pierson and her family told reporters that they plan to challenge the state’s sentencing laws.
“I’ll just keep thinking I’ll never see her again,” she told KOMO.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated that Snohomish Superior Court Judge Linda Krese had said she was “surprised, even outraged” by the sentence. According to the court transcript, Krese was talking about how the victim’s family and friends felt about the penalty. The article has been updated.