Testimony provided by his 15-year old girlfriend at the Regional Trial Court sealed the fate of the man charged with the gruesome killing of a gay beautician in a vacant lot in Eastern Cavinitan, Virac two years ago.
Heavily relying on circumstantial evidence, RTC Branch 42 Acting Presiding Judge Lelu P. Contreras last week found Nicholas Tresvalles Vargas guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of homicide and sentenced him to suffer imprisonment of eight years and one day as minimum to 17 years, four months and one day as maximum.
Vargas was likewise ordered to pay the heirs of Dexter John “Jay-Jay” Punzalan, a native of Sto. Tomas, Batangas then working as a beautician at Pulchra Beauty Salon, the sum of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity, another P50,000.00 as moral damages, P90,000.00 as actual damages and P2,543,760.00 as recompense for loss of earning capacity. The monetary awards shall earn interest at the rate of 6% per annum from the date of finality of judgment until fully paid, Judge Contreras stated further in her Feb. 28 decision.
In the morning of March 12, 2014, Punzalan’s bloodied, half-naked body, riddled with stab wounds at the back, lacerations and abrasions, was found beside a concrete fence of a vacant lot owned by former Virac councilor Joseph Mendoza. His head had been struck by a blunt object, the autopsy later revealed.
The 26-year old beautician had been working for the past four months with Pulchra when he told his co-workers a day before the incident that he would take the next day off to attend to some personal matters. At the time, he had been living with a partner from Gigmoto at a nipa hut in San Isidro Village near Camp Francisco Camacho.
A student told the Tribune at the time that he and his classmates were reviewing for their final exams in their boarding house when they heard a man cursing, shouting and then begging for help at about midnight of March 11. Suddenly, he said, they saw a man wearing a black shirt running away.
With no witnesses coming forward, the Virac police had seemingly reached a dead end when lawmen arrested two men armed with a knife and flashlight who had broken into a commercial building at barangay Salvacion on March 20, one of whom was Nicholas Vargas.
The next day, Vargas’ live-in partner, Noreen (not her real name), went to the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office together with her parents and executed a statement in which she identified “Kulas” as the one responsible for Punzalan’s death.
According to her testimony during the trial, she and Nicholas has been living together for one month in Baras when they transferred to Gogon Sirangan. They had been in the barangay for a week when, at Nicholas’ urging, he, Noreen and his friend Kanor sat outside a store along the road in front of the Catanduanes State University at around 9 P.M. sometime in March 2014.
She recalled that a “bakla” in orange t-shirt and shorts passed by and called her “agom”, who went near the gay. The gay man gave Kulas a cigarette and talked with him. Shortly, both men passed by, with Kulas signaling Noreen that they would be leaving. Noreen told her partner that she and Kanor would wait, as the gay and Kulas proceeded towards Cavinitan.
At around 2 A.M., Noreen stated, she saw Nicholas with bloody hands and arms running towards them. He told them to run and they did, until Nicholas stopped in front of the DTI compound. Kanor flagged down a passing tricycle and they alighted at the terminal in Gogon, walking until the vicinity of the Gogon Elementary School where Nicholas stopped.
It was then then Kulas informed them that he had stabbed someone, the “bakla” who he claimed had nim mauled, showing the injuries on his face and knee. Kulas and Noreen then went to their place where they were staying and, after wiping his hands and arms with a wet cloth, they slept. When they woke up, Nicholas took off his jacket and shorts and gave them to Noreen, whom he instructed to give the same to their neighbor to be burned.
Nine days later upon his arrest, Noreen was at the MSWDO when she was shown a picture of Punzalan, whom she positively identified as the “bakla” who went with Nicholas.
In her decision, Judge Contreras said there is more than one circumstance that formed an unbroken chain that led to one fair and reasonable conclusion that Nicholas, to the exclusion of others, was the guilty person.
Although Noreen was the only witness presented by the prosecution, the Court said her testimony more than sufficed the evidence against Nicholas. “While it is true that she had no personal knowledge of what transpired between Nicholas and Dexter after they left the, her testimony as to the statement made by Nicholas that he stabbed Dexter is admissible to establish the fact that such statement was, indeed, made by Nicholas,” Judge Contreras stressed.