15-year-old charged as adult in New Year's Eve killing

  • Santa Rosa Police investigate a fatal shooting that occurred in the early morning at Redwood Park Apartments in Santa Rosa, California on Tuesday, December 31, 2013.. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

A 15-year-old from Santa Rosa was charged as an adult Friday in a New Year's Eve slaying outside a Piner Road apartment complex.

Joseph Mario Varela was charged with a single count of murder and gun enhancements in the early morning shooting of Damien Wadell Toney Jr., 20, at the Redwood Park Apartments.

In a rare occurrence on the North Coast, Varela, who faces a maximum 25-years-to-life sentence, was charged as an adult because he is 14 or older, prosecutor Bud McMahon said.

The thinly built teenager appeared to be holding back tears as he was led into a Santa Rosa courtroom with his hands shackled to his waist.

Judge Dana Simonds appointed the Public Defender's Office to represent Varela and ordered him back to court Jan. 17 for possible plea.

He is being held at Juvenile Hall without bail.

Outside court, a woman identified as his mother declined to talk to reporters.

"I really don't think this is something that has to be written about," she said.

Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi said Varela had no prior criminal record. She declined further comment, saying she had just received police reports.

However, she didn't rule out the possibility that Varela may have acted in defense of himself or others. She said it was rare for someone Varela's age to be charged as an adult.

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