REDWOOD CITY -- A man who was driven by mental illness to beat a young father to death with a pipe wrench was ordered Wednesday to be committed indefinitely to a state mental hospital, a prosecutor said.
Nicholas Vargas, 26, will be sent to Napa State Hospital for 23-year-old Chris Chastain's murder in San Bruno but could be released later if doctors there find he has regained his sanity, Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti said.
At the same hearing San Mateo County Superior Court Judge John Grandsaert sentenced co-defendant Brandon Thompson, 28, of San Mateo to 18 years in prison for his role in the slaying.
Vargas and Chastain, both San Bruno residents, were acquaintances who were talking inside the home of Vargas' parents when the attack commenced April 10, 2011, prosecutors said. Vargas initially told police he believed Chastain had raped his sister, but it was subsequently determined to be a fictional product of his mental illness, Guidotti said.
Vargas beat Chastain to death with a pipe wrench, while Thompson stabbed the victim twice in the stomach, prosecutors said. The stab wounds didn't kill Chastain and Thompson later claimed he used the knife out of fear Vargas would attack him if he didn't participate, Guidotti said.
After his death Chastain was remembered by friends and family as a "gentle giant" and loving father of a then 3-year-old boy.
Neither Thompson nor Vargas' attorney immediately responded to a request for comment on the case.
Thompson pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and felony assault in May, while Vargas entered the same plea to second-degree murder in February. At Thompson' hearing in May prosecution and defense lawyers agreed, based on doctors' reports, Vargas was insane during the killing and remains insane, Guidotti said.
After the slaying, Thompson and Vargas dragged Chastain's body out of Vargas' parent's house and into the driveway, prosecutors said. They planned to load the corpse into the trunk of Vargas' car, but he was too big. So Vargas went upstairs and woke his father who slept through the killing. The elder Vargas called police.
Grandsaert also set an Aug. 14 court date to verify Vargas has been sent to Napa, Guidotti said. Both defendants were being held in Redwood City without bail.
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.