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Austin man sentenced to more than 3 decades in prison for fatal stabbing

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AUSTIN, Minn. -- The Austin man who fatally stabbed a teenager in the neck as the teen was trying to protect his mother from an assault will spend decades in prison, a Mower County District Court judge ordered.

Jaime Arquimides Vaca was sentenced Thursday in Mower County District Court by Judge Christa Daily to 381 months in state prison. The more-than-30-year sentence is made up of consecutive sentences of 306 months and 75 months.

Vaca, 28, pleaded guilty in November 2021 to intentional second-degree murder in the death of 15-year-old Julio Cesar Rodriguez and attempted unintentional second-degree murder for his attack on Julio’s mother.

Two additional felony charges of second-degree murder and first-degree assault were dismissed at sentencing.

Vaca had been held at the Mower County Jail on $500,000 conditional bail since his first court appearance on Dec. 16, 2020. He will receive credit for 394 days he has already served.

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Austin police and the Mower County Sheriff's Office were called about 8:50 a.m. Dec. 13, 2020, to the 800 block of Third Avenue Northwest for a report of an assault in progress. When police arrived, they found an adult woman lying in the front yard, covered in blood and bleeding profusely from a stab wound to her neck, according to the criminal complaint.

Through a statement read by a victim advocate from the Crime Victims Resource Center, Julio’s mother recalled dragging herself to a neighbor’s front door to ask for help. When a child answered the door, Julio’s mother left to find another neighbor rather than reveal her own trauma to the child.

Julio’s mother was flown to Mayo Clinic Hospital-Saint Marys Campus where she underwent extensive surgery to save her life.

Julio was found inside the home covered in blood and struggling to breathe. He was taken by ambulance to Mayo Clinic Health Systems-Austin and then flown by helicopter to Saint Marys, where he died of his injuries.

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A crowd gathers for a candle-light vigil in Austin, Friday December 18, 2020, for Julio Rodriguez who was killed this week trying to protect his mother from an attacker. Julio loved to play football and play video games when he wasn't making others around him smile. (Erich Fisher / efisher@postbulletin.com)

His death, his mother wrote in her statement, has greatly impacted his younger siblings, causing them to have nightmares, panic attacks and trust issues.

The woman asked how a mother recovers from the loss of a child at the hands of her partner. Answering her own question, she said in her statement she didn’t think she ever would.

A cousin and another family spoke about the impact Julio had on their lives and listed the things the 15-year-old boy would never experience -- prom, graduating high school, driving the car of his dreams, buying his first house, getting married, fatherhood.

Julio’s grandmother was the last member of his family to speak Thursday afternoon. Speaking directly to Vaca and referring to him as “JJ,” the woman asked why he killed her grandson.

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Speaking briefly after the family’s remarks, Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen said the pre-sentence investigation presented to court was “offensive” and it showed Vaca had a “complete lack of empathy or remorse.”

Vaca’s own attorneys said they were shocked by the contents of the report and that during their own meetings with their client, Vaca never hesitated to say it was his fault.

Speaking on his own behalf, Vaca told the court that as a father it was his job to protect his family from evil but on that December day, he was that evil.

“I was a coward that day and I’m truly sorry,” he said.

Before handing down the sentence, Judge Daily addressed Julio’s family, saying it was clear that the loss they felt was great and that they were tortured by their loss.

The 381-month sentence was presented to the court as part of an agreement and left little leeway for Daily to impose a stricter sentence. Daily said that as a result of the “disturbing” pre-sentence investigation, she would have given a longer sentence if she had had the ability.

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