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Court rules statement in, cocaine out

Death penalty sought in 2002 double-murder case

POSTED: March 9, 2008 5:02 a.m.
The Georgia Supreme Court ruled this week that a Hall County death penalty defendant’s initial statement to investigators about a drug-related double murder is admissible in court, but a large amount of cocaine seized two days later is not.

The split decision left both the prosecution and defense in the long-pending case of Ignacio Vergara, 26, with rulings in their favor.

District Attorney Lee Darragh said with the court’s decision, he is hopeful to soon move forward with the case, which has been pending since 2002.

Darragh said he expects a trial date will be set by Hall County Superior Court Senior Judge John Girardeau "fairly soon, but there’s no certain date as of now."

"We certainly are looking to have the matter finally disposed of in court," Darragh said.

Vergara’s attorney, Lee Parks, said he couldn’t comment on whether he thought the case would go to trial soon.

"I haven’t discussed with Mr. Vergara what his options are yet," Parks said Tuesday, a day after the state’s high court released its unanimous opinion.

Parks acknowledged, "as of right now, the state is still seeking the death penalty against my client."

Vergara’s co-defendant, Brigido Soto, pleaded guilty to murder in March 2007, with the understanding he would serve a sentence of two prison terms of life without the option of parole. Soto has agreed to testify against Vergara at a trial, if necessary, and would be sentenced after Vergara’s case is closed.

Soto and Vergara were charged in the March 2002 murders of Alejandro Santana and Francesco Saucedo, both 25, whose bullet-riddled bodies were found in a parked car on a gravel road near Flowery Branch. Authorities believe the men were killed for two kilograms of cocaine.

Soto’s lawyer has said in court that his client was the gunman, firing eight rounds from a Colt .45 handgun while standing outside the car after Vergara allegedly told him to shoot the men.

In an opinion written by Justice George Carley, the high court said that a statement Vergara gave investigators shortly after the murders, when he was advised of his right to remain silent and have a lawyer present, could be used at trial. A statement he made two days later, when Hall County sheriff’s investigators did not remind Vergara of his so-called "Miranda rights," must be suppressed, the court ruled. A large amount of cocaine — more than 28 grams — that was found in a plastic trash can in the driveway of his home as a direct result of the interview is also inadmissible, the court ruled.

Darragh said Tuesday that he had enough evidence to pursue a trafficking charge against Vergara without the cocaine being introduced as evidence.

Vergara’s case is one of three pending death penalty cases in Hall County. Prosecutors are also seeking the death penalty against 19-year-old Allan Robert Dickie in connection with the rape and stabbing death of 37-year-old Claudia Toppin. Cornelio Zamites, 27, faces the possibility of execution in the 2004 rape and strangulation death of 4-year-old Esmeralda Nava.



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