Published November 22, 2003 by Daryl Farnsworth, Bee Staff Writer

A Stanislaus County judge declared a mistrial Friday after a Superior Court jury said it was deadlocked in the double-murder trial of Francisco Vargas. The six-man, six-woman jury told Judge Jack Jacobson that it was deadlocked 7-5 for acquittal on the charges against Vargas.

Vargas, 36, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances because of multiple murders, Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley said Friday.

After two weeks of testimony, the jury also was to consider lesser included offenses of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.

Shipley said Vargas remained in custody without bail. Vargas was ordered back to court Dec. 3, she said.

Prosecutors now must decide whether to refile or dismiss the charges, or accept a plea from Vargas, Shipley said.

Prosecutors said Vargas, a former ironworker, was working as a drug debt collector and shot two people with a shotgun in front of his Cheyenne Way home in north Modesto on Aug. 23, 2001.

Defense attorney Robert L. Forkner argued that the killings were justifiable homicide because Vargas thought the victims, Paul Masanial, 40, and Melissa Pacheco-Lozano, 21, were about to kidnap and kill his children. Forkner argued during the trial that the victims pointed guns at Vargas.

Prosecutor Doug Fontan told the jury that Masanial and Pacheco-Lozano were unarmed when they were killed. No guns were found in the car the victims were in.

The prosecution maintained that Vargas never believed he or his children were in any real danger and that he shot the victims because he was tired of their demands for money they said he owed.