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2002 Hughson killer freed because of COVID policy, governors Brown & Newsom
parole board

Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager announced Tuesday that convicted killer and Mexican national Miguel Angel Zavala Vigas, 37, is being released from prison early due to the state’s policy relating to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fladager has confirmed that there is an immigration hold on Vigas and that he should be deported to Mexico immediately upon release.

Vigas was convicted of fatally shooting Regino Abundis in the back during an April 18, 2002 robbery in Hughson. He had initially been sentenced to serve life in state prison without the possibility of parole before then-Governor Jerry Brown commuted the sentence in 2018 to a vastly reduced term of 20 years to life.

Abundis and two friends, Juan Baragan and Jose Morales, drove to a house near Hughson to allegedly buy a car, although evidence indicates the victims believed they would be buying drugs. When they got there, Baragan and Morales went inside while Abundis remained outside. While Baragan and Morales were talking with two men inside, several other men, including Vigas who was armed with a Colt Cobra revolver, appeared from concealment. At some point, Abundis entered the house and was struck by Vigas and his co-defendants who also hit the others over the head, knocking them to floor. Vigas helped tape the eyes of their three victims and bound their hands and feet. Vigas demanded to know where the money was and Abundis told him it was in the car. As the robbers moved Baragan and Morales to a bedroom, Abundis broke free from Vigas and ran into the backyard where Vigas fatally shot him in the back.

Vigas and his accomplices drove to an apartment complex in Empire where they were arrested. Deputies recovered two bags containing approximately $49,000 and several firearms, including the revolver used in the killing.

When interviewed by detectives, the 18-year-old Vigas admitted they planned to rob Abundis and his companions.

In 2004 Vigas was convicted of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of murder committed during a robbery, conspiracy to commit murder and two counts of robbery, along with enhancements on each count for using a gun in the crime causing death. The sentence handed down was life in prison without the possibility of parole along with a consecutive 25 years to life sentence for using a gun and causing the death of Abundis.

While in prison, Vigas applied for clemency to then-Governor Jerry Brown who then removed life without parole and changed the sentence to 20 years to life based upon Vigas’s age at the time of the crime and lack of known previous criminal record. to the lowering of the sentences, no notice was provided to the District Attorney’s Office or the victim’s family.

During his first parole hearing on July 7, 2020, the Parole Board determined that Vigas did not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society and granted the release. The board pointed to his lack of a known criminal record even though he illegally entered the U.S. at age 17. They also felt that Vigas fell under the more lenient “youthful offender” criteria since he committed the offense under the age of 26. The board said Vigas had turned his life around since 2013 by making positive life choices in prison, dropping out of Mexican gang activities, completing alcohol and drug counseling, plus working towards completing his high school education he had started back in 2016. The board also found that Vigas had reasonable parole plans if deported back to Mexico.

On Jan. 14, Governor Newsom decided he would not take any further action on this case. Secretary Allison of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation immediately ordered that Vigas be released on parole given the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.

Ordinarily, youthful offenders who commit murder and are sentenced to life in prison do not receive a parole hearing until after serving at least 25 years in prison custody. In this case, Governor Brown shortened that time even further to only 20 years.