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Convicted sex offender held without bail in connection with 1988 Boston murder

Richard Vega entered a plea of not guilty at his arraignment in Suffolk Superior Court Tuesday for the 1988 murder of Judy Chamberlain.
Richard Vega entered a plea of not guilty at his arraignment in Suffolk Superior Court Tuesday for the 1988 murder of Judy Chamberlain.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

A convicted sex offender was ordered held without bail Tuesday, after Suffolk County prosecutors connected him to the brutal killing of a young woman in the basement of a Boston building in 1988 that has for decades gone unsolved.

Richard C. Vega, 59, who prosecutors also referred to as Ricardo S. Mazzarino, is charged with a single count of murder in the slaying of 21-year-old Judy Chamberlin, whose body was found by a maintenance worker shoved into an industrial pump.

Vega has been in prison under civil commitment since 2008 after a jury found him sexually dangerous. Prior to that ruling, he served 18 years for the rape of an elderly woman in Revere that a prosecutor said he committed because the woman’s son had an unpaid drug debt.

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At his hearing on Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court, Vega stood expressionless as Suffolk Assistant District Attorney John Verner described his alleged crime. Vega pleaded not guilty to the charge.

“We will never stop looking for people who commit murder,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who attended the hearing. “There is no statute of limitations, and we have one of our best lawyers in the office working on these types of cases because these families deserve it.”

The new charge comes 33 years after Chamberlin was found raped and strangled in the basement of the former Fargo building at 451 D St. on July 28, 1988, Verner said.

Today, the location is home to a nine story residential building in what is now the Seaport District.

Chamberlin, who Verner said was a sex worker, was found by a maintenance employee who was checking a small closet in the basement of the building after he spotted a leak. Responding police found the victim with a thick ligature mark around her neck, “which strongly suggests that the defendant, Mr. Vega, strangled her from behind with a thick cord or rope.”

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Chamberlin’s pants were also open, and her underwear missing, according to Verner.

DNA evidence collected at the scene was determined in 2011 to match a sample of Vega’s DNA collected as a requirement of his prior rape conviction. The match was not enough evidence to pursue a conviction at the time, Verner said, but additional information collected by prosecutors in the years following has strengthened the case against him.

Among that evidence was an account from someone who said they had hired Vega as a subcontractor to work on the building around the time of Chamberlin’s murder. Another witness corroborated that account, Verner said.

When he was interviewed by investigators, Vega denied ever knowing or interacting with Chamberlin.

“I understand that Mr. Vega is civilly committed... but we have no way of controlling that,” Verner told Judge Mark A. Hallal. “I think given the facts of this case, given his prior record and the potential penalty, holding Mr. Vega without bail is appropriate.”

Vega’s defense attorney, Timothy Bradl, asked the judge to set a reasonable bail and said the DNA evidence was not sufficient to prove the murder charge.

“There’s no evidence whatsoever beyond that other than a denial by Mr. Vega of ever knowing the woman,” said Bradl. “I suspect Mr. Vega is not the first John to deny to the police that he was with a prostitute. It shouldn’t be the basis for a murder charge.”

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Rollins said she is confident in the case her office has built against Vega.

“We only move forward with cases we’re confident with,” she said.

Vega’s indictment is the latest in a string of cold cases to see new developments under Rollins’ Project for Unsolved Suffolk Homicides. The program, known as PUSH, was started in 2019 to reexamine unsolved murder cases dating back to the 1960s, according to the statement.

Vega is the third person charged under the initiative. In November 2019, William Sanchez was charged with shooting and killing Jorge Medina outside of a party in Dorchester in 1995. In December 2019, Steven Fike was indicted on charges of raping and killing 19-year-old Wendy Dansereau in a South End hotel.

John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.


Andrew Brinker can be reached at andrew.brinker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewnbrinker.