Centre Daily Times (State College, PA)
November 23, 2005

Author: By Erin L. Nissley enissley@centredaily.com

BELLEFONTE -- A man who has been in prison since his August 2003 arrest on charges he killed his infant son was freed Tuesday night after he pleaded no contest to a charge of involuntary manslaughter. Alejandro Mendez Vargas, 31, was sentenced by President Judge Charles C. Brown Jr. to serve between one year, less one day, and two years, less one day, to be followed by 24 months of probation. Vargas was given credit for the time he's already served in prison and was freed to serve the remaining 19 months of probation.

As part of his sentence, Vargas will also not be allowed to be the sole caretaker or supervisor of any child, Brown said. The reason for the "less one day" language was to keep the sentence within guidelines for a county jail sentence, so he'll be able to serve his probation under the county's supervision. Vargas spoke briefly to Brown before being sentenced, saying, "I want to go home and be with my wife." His wife, Lisa Mullenax, and about a dozen other supporters sat quietly in the courtroom. Afterward, Mullenax reiterated that she stands behind her husband. "To lose a child is a tragedy," she said. "To have that loss compounded by false accusations is devastating. My husband is innocent." Vargas was originally charged with first-degree murder, which could have resulted in the death penalty. Police began investigating his 3-month-old son's death after Vargas took the child to a neighbor's home Aug. 27, 2002, because the child showed signs of medical distress. The boy was flown to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville for treatment and died Sept. 2, 2002. A coroner's report showed the infant died as a result of blunt trauma to the head, most likely the result of being shaken, according to previous articles. That led police and prosecutors to think that Vargas, who was the only one home with the child, shook the baby and caused the boy's death. Judge Brown dismissed the first-deg! ree murder charge last month because he didn't think prosecutors could show that Vargas acted with the specific intent to kill or that the killing was done with premeditation. Both of those are necessary to convict someone of the charge. After Vargas' plea Tuesday, a third-degree murder charge was essentially dismissed. One of Vargas' attorneys, Roy DeCaro, told Brown that experts working for the defense filed medical reports that showed that Vargas' child died as a result of a blood disorder, not shaken baby syndrome. He made a motion to file the reports as exhibits, but Assistant District Attorney Lance Marshall asked that they be kept confidential. "We disagree with the reports," Marshall said. After the sentencing, DeCaro said Vargas maintains his innocence but decided to plead no contest to avoid more jail time. "When you need to have a choice between walking out or going to prison ... for life, there's really no contest," DeCaro said. Marshall, in a statement to the press after the sentencing, said the sentence may seem st! range but that investigations in the past six months brought the case down a different path than originally envisioned by prosecutors. "Reviewing all the evidence ... this is where the facts led us," he said of the plea. "If Mr. Vargas had not spent one day in jail, we would have asked for two to four years. He's already served the amount of time we would have asked for."

Erin L. Nissley can be reached at 231-4616.