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Family of slain MSCO detention officer speaks out: 'The justice system completely failed us'

Leonard Moreno was sentenced to 14 years for killing Jorge Vargas in 2013. He only has to serve about 5 more years.

PHOENIX — Jorge Vargas’ family said justice was not served after the man convicted of killing him was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Vargas had been a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office detention officer for eight years, before he was murdered on his driveway as he was getting ready to go to work on August 8, 2013.

Nearly two months after the killing, authorities arrested Leonard Moreno, who was 15 years old at the time.

Prosecutors charged him with first-degree murder, but this summer he plead guilty to lesser charges, manslaughter, and aggravated assault.

On Friday, a judge sentenced him to 14 years in prison for manslaughter and 10 years for the second charge. According to the plea agreement, the sentences will run concurrently with one another, and since Moreno has been incarcerated since his arrest, he only has to serve about five more years.

“The justice system completely failed us,” said Irvin Vargas, the victim's brother. “Justice should have been served today. Justice should have prevailed… but it didn’t.”

The brother said the family was disappointed because they wanted to take the MSCO’s jail guard’s case to trial but claimed the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office did not take their wishes into account.

“Throughout the years the prosecutors assured us that when we went to trial we would win the case because of the staggering evidence against him,” the brother said. “But one day before the hearing before trial, they called us into the hearing that the defendant accepted in his own terms.”

In a statement to 12News, MCAO said they had “extensive contact with the [Vargas] family.”

“The County Attorney’s Office is disappointed with the outcome of this case. However, over the lifespan of the case, issues arose with witness availability, as well as factual and legal issues, and the plea agreement entered into with the defendant is the most responsible course of action.”

Vargas’ brother criticized MCAO for the time it had passed since the murder to conclude the case.

“My family and I truly feel that my brother's case received very different treatment than others, based on racial discrimination… because he’s Mexican,” he said.

Criminal defense attorney Benjamin Taylor, who did not represent any parties in the case, said although Vargas’ family represent him as the victim, they could not have helped decide the outcome or its time.

“Victims are allowed to input, request a trial, or a stronger plea. But ultimately it’s the prosecutor and defendant who decide how a case is resolved,” Taylor said.

Arizona law states prosecutors represent the state of Arizona and not the victims, the attorney noted.

“Of course, they’re supposed to fight hard for the state and that means fighting for the victim, but at the end of the day the prosecutor can go lower [on a sentence] than what the victims want,” Taylor said.

Vargas’ family said this is not the end of their fight for justice.

“We are going to take it to appeals,” the victim’s brother said. “My brother was the glue that held the family together… and he was stripped away from us.”

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