Defendants sentenced in 2013 Santa Rosa party killing

An 18-year-old Santa Rosa man was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in a juvenile prison for the 2013 killing of Damien Toney in a shooting outside a party when he was 15.

The decision by Judge Dana Simonds caused passionate objections by members of the victim’s family. They said Joseph Varela’s actions were adult in nature because of the lasting consequences, especially for Toney’s child, who was 11 months old at the time of the slaying.

Toney’s grandmother, Eva Johnson of Vallejo, read a definition of the word “responsibility” in court, and said her family believed Varela should have been sent to adult prison. The two had known each other well - a point that added to the family’s pain.

Varela “had been in his home, he had held his son,” Johnson said. “He knew what kind of person he was.”

Both Varela and co-defendant Manuel Khiobouakham, 22, pleaded no contest in July to voluntary manslaughter. Toney, 20, was shot early on Dec. 31, while outside the Redwood Apartments on Piner Road.

Varela and Khiobouakham, who was 19 at the time, were initially charged with murder; however, a jury failed to agree, resulting in a mistrial.

In agreements with the judge, both men admitted to using a gun, and Varela agreed he killed Toney for the benefit of a gang. Also at the hearing, ?Khiobouakham was sentenced to seven years in state prison.

Prosecutors said the confrontation began at the party when Toney got into a fight with Paula Brisco, the mother of his child. Brisco is also Varela’s cousin, and he tried to intervene. Toney was ejected from the party.

Prosecutor Chris Honigsberg said Varela and Khiobouakham armed themselves and confronted Toney outside, shooting him at least twice.

Before Simonds announced her decision, public defender Nate Poulos urged the judge to consider research showing adolescents are more impulsive than adults because their brains are still developing.

“The adolescent acts with passion, not judgment. Perhaps Joseph Varela and Damien Toney would have taken different actions that night” had they been older, Poulos said.

Honigsberg argued Simonds didn’t have the discretion to send Varela to juvenile prison. The judge disagreed.

She allowed Toney’s mother and grandmother to speak and show family photographs of Toney, including many of the man holding his son.

The day before he died, Toney was awarded custody of his son. That night, his mother agreed to watch the boy so Toney could attend the party.

Dorothy Toney, during a statement full of emotion, told the court that the boy is now 3 years old and in her care, whereas her firstborn son, Toney, “is in a box on my shelf,” referring to his ashes.

“Turn around and look at the mother of the kid you killed, the life you took,” Dorothy Toney said.

Varela, seated next to his attorney in a gray suit, turned and their eyes met.

“?‘Damien got shot’ - those were the three words that took my life,” she said.

The only words Varela spoke during the hearing were to thank the judge after Simonds urged him to listen to Toney’s grieving family and take every opportunity to turn his life around.

“You can take a different path than the one that led you here,” Simonds said.

She ordered him and Khiobouakham to pay nearly $40,000 in restitution to Toney’s mother.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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