In late December of 1995, Rebecca Vargas, was brutally beaten to death and left partially nude behind an apartment. Her husband, Stephen Vargas, was arrested shortly after and charged with murder.
Vargas was convicted of murder and sentenced to serve five years to life in prison, all while maintaining his innocence.
However, during a May 2016 parole hearing, Vargas told a different story.
“I grabbed a hammer and hit her in the head with it and took her life right there,” Vargas told Robert Yeates, vice chairman of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, who conducted the hearing at the prison in Draper.
Vargas’ disclosure reversed 20 years of insistence he did not kill his wife, despite reports of numerous threats against her life and other ominous developments in the preceding months. This included an instance during a pickup basketball game where he said if O.J. Simpson could get away with murder, so could he.
Autopsy reports said Rebecca Vargas suffered two beatings, the second one several hours after the first to finish her off. The second beating was inflicted with a lantern that was found at the scene. Vargas said in his parole hearing he discarded the hammer after walking away from the apartment. The hammer never was found.
During the 2016 parole hearing, Vargas was asked why he claimed his innocence for the past 20 years, including a jury trial.
“I didn’t want the responsibility of what I had done,” Vargas said. “I was a coward and didn’t want to tell my daughters that I had killed their mother, to tell her family. I gave a lot of false hope to both sides … I don’t think anybody wanted it to be me. I didn’t have the guts, so I just shut up.”
Vargas was denied parole, and his next parole hearing is scheduled for May 2026. He is serving his prison time at the Utah State Prison.
The murder of Rebecca Vargas was featured on Season 3, Episode 3 of Investigation Discovery's show "American Monster," which premiered on July 22, 2018.