Child-murder cold case sparks battle between Southern California district attorneys

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ByRob Hayes via KABC logo
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
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A convicted sex offender has pleaded no contest to sexually assaulting and killing two young boys in the 1980s.

POMONA, Calif. (KABC) -- Appearing in a Pomona courtroom on Monday, a convicted sex offender pleaded no contest to sexually assaulting and killing two young boys in the 1980s.

Kenneth Kasten Rasmuson is expected to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for kidnapping, raping and killing six year old Jeffrey Vargo in 1981 and six year old Miguel Antero in 1986.

"The outcome that we have will allow him to never, ever come out and injure or hurt another child," Iris Land said in front of the Pomona Courthouse. She is the cousin of Antero, who was kidnapped by Rasmuson from Agoura Hills and stabbed to death.

Investigators say Rasmuson grabbed Vargo while he was riding his bicycle near his Anaheim Hills home. His body was found dumped at a Pomona construction site.

Rasmuson's arrest in the two cases came after a DNA hit in 2015 linked Rasmuson to the killings. He had spent 17 years in prison for sexually assaulting a 3-year-old Los Angeles boy.

The Rasmuson case sparked an ugly battle between Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón and Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. Spitzer had been fighting to have the Vargo case moved to Orange County, arguing that Gascón's policies and special directive would allow Rasmuson to possibly qualify for parole at some point.

LA County DA George Gasón appears on Eyewitness Newsmakers

"The residents of Los Angeles County, they need a lot of prayers, because they are in big trouble right now with this district attorney," Spitzer said at a news conference Monday. "Those special directives are seriously misguided... It is a cookie cutter approach to justice and that has no place in our system."

But in a written statement, Gascón's office says the special enhancements were still in place, and Rasmuson was always facing life in prison.

"This was a heinous offense and this individual will not share the sidewalk with the rest of us," Gascón wrote. "The defendant was always facing life in prison, making the rhetoric from tough-on-crime voices incredibly dangerous and entirely removed from reality. Splitting this case up or seeking the death penalty in a state with a moratorium would have dragged the victims through decades of legal proceedings for an execution that is exceedingly unlikely to be imposed. Spending exorbitant amounts on a death penalty prosecution that is ultimately just for show would force the families of these victims to relive their trauma through decades of litigation. That's not in the interests of the victims, nor is it in the interests of the public."

Before today's plea deal, former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti held his own news conference, supporting Gascón and his reform movement. The death penalty, Garcetti says, doesn't work and is not a deterrent.

"The death penalty is a massive waste of money," he said. "It is unfair to the surviving victims of murder, the family, the close friends of the deceased."

But the victims families in the Vargo and Antero cases don't see it that way. They says Gascón's policies toward violent and dangerous criminals are just too lenient.

"He could have possibly got out in 14 or 15 years," said Connie Vargo, the Jeffrey Vargo's mother. "Imagine a murderer, a child molester, a deviant to society and I'm just glad that didn't happen."

Rasmuson is slated to be sentenced on April 27th.