LYNNWOOD — Alyssa Noceda was still growing up when she died.
The young man who watched her overdose, Brian Varela, will serve less than three years in prison for giving her drugs, raping her and joking about her lifeless body over texts with friends.
Superior Court Judge Linda Krese said Thursday she was bound by law to sentence Varela to 2 years and 10 months. It’s the most time allowed under state guidelines for second-degree manslaughter, third-degree rape and unlawful disposal of human remains, for someone with no prior record.
Krese said she could understand why family and friends of the victim were “surprised, and even outraged” by the sentence and later added, “Frankly, I too find the available sentence to be really inadequate to what happened here.” She has seen auto theft cases with more serious penalties.
“I’m not sure the Legislature really contemplated something like this,” Krese said.
Noceda had just turned 18.
She was close to getting her driver’s license. She’d applied for a job at Safeway. She was the proud owner of a new iPhone, a dream Christmas present for a social butterfly. On a whim she chopped her long hair, to what she called a boy cut. Her family uses the length of her hair to guess the dates of old pictures: cradling a runaway dog, giving a piggyback ride to a friend, showing off a tattoo of a pocket watch on her forearm.
Varela, 20, told detectives Noceda came to a party in February at a mobile home near Martha Lake. In Varela’s room, she snorted crushed pills and he offered her a dab of concentrated THC. She collapsed within a minute of mixing the two, according to Varela’s story. He told police the pills were Percocet. Tests later showed she’d taken a fatal mix of fentanyl and alprazolam, a generic name for Xanax. Varela did not call for help. Instead he texted pictures of Noceda’s partly nude body to coworkers, with comments like, “LOL.”
“Bro you killed her,” one friend said.
“But not joking she od bruh,” Varela wrote. He didn’t care, he added, because he was sexually assaulting her “to pass the time.”
Noceda’s mother Gina Pierson said she had been trying to call and text.
“Be careful,” Pierson wrote to Noceda at 10:17 p.m. Feb. 3. “Do you know the person you’re with very well?”
Pierson woke up hours later.
“Why is your phone off?” she texted her daughter at 2:37 a.m. “Call me, please, I want to know you’re OK. Please be safe.”
Varela played an online game until he fell asleep, according to charging papers. He woke up the next morning, he told police, to find Noceda’s lips blue. She was cold to the touch.
Again, he didn’t call for help.
He went to work at Dairy Queen. Once he returned, he stuffed the body in a plastic crate. He kept her hidden for days. He used the thumbprint of Noceda’s hand to hack into her iPhone, to make a post on Snapchat suggesting that she ran away. He washed her body to try to destroy evidence. He told friends he planned to bury her near Marysville, then flee to Mexico. One coworker called police.
“There are a lot of things for us to always wonder, the what-ifs, the how-comes, that’s the hardest part,” said Noceda’s aunt, Rachelle Palmer, 32. “Why did someone have to take such an innocent girl, and then to try to hide it?”
Teachers from elementary school came to Noceda’s funeral.
Pierson was 16 when she became pregnant with Noceda. There are parallels between Noceda’s youth and her own.
“She kind of saw what I went through,” Pierson said. “So I got kicked out of Mariner, and I had to go to an alternative school. I had a lot going on, and ended up dropping out. I think she tried to use that as an excuse.”
Noceda stopped going to Mariner for about a year, Pierson said. She rode a ferry from Mukilteo to work at a pizza restaurant on Whidbey Island.
“Her main goal was just to finish high school, when she realized all of her friends were graduating,” Palmer said.
She had just gotten her paperwork together to enroll in classes again.
Deputy prosecutor Toni Montgomery reached a plea agreement in September.
“His complete disregard for the value in her life, and the way he treated her body and what he did with it — 34 months is really the only sentence that would be appropriate, given the current sentencing structure,” Montgomery said in court.
Noceda’s mother and aunt cried when they learned the likely sentence.
“You might as well let him walk free with that kind of time,” Palmer said.
In a packed courtroom Thursday, friends and family wore matching black hoodies with Justice-4-Alyssa printed across the back. The front showed Noceda, with angel wings sprouting from her shoulders.
One by one for about a half-hour, Noceda’s loved ones stood in front of the judge and called Varela a monster and a murderer.
One friend, Katherine Koziol, pointed out there were other young men who saw those photos of Noceda dying. They had cracked sickening jokes, too, but they were not facing any punishment for failing to call for help, she said.
When it was Varela’s turn in court, he spoke two sentences.
“I’m sorry for my foolish actions,” he said. “Whatever I get is what I deserve.”
In an interview before the hearing, Pierson said state laws need to change so other families don’t suffer like hers. She struggled to explain her feelings toward the defendant. She has tried to forgive him, she said.
“I don’t know why I have any compassion for him, but I do,” she said. “I feel bad for his family. I’d be embarrassed if that was my child. I would be hurt.”
Others, like Noceda’s aunt, cannot forgive. Palmer thinks of how after the death, Varela broke into Noceda’s phone, hid her body, tried to trick her mother into thinking she’d run away — and had so many chances to do the right thing.
“One of those things was a mistake,” she said. “But it was continuous. Lie after lie after lie after lie. I can forgive you for a mistake. This wasn’t a mistake.”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.