REDWOOD CITY -- A San Bruno resident has pleaded no contest to beating a man to death with a pipe wrench in parents' home nearly two years ago, a prosecutor said Monday.

Nicholas Jose Vargas, 26, entered his plea Friday in San Mateo County Superior Court to charges of second-degree murder in the 2011 death of Christopher Chastain, 23, but still faces a trial on whether he was sane during the killing, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

If a jury finds him insane Vargas would likely be sent to a state mental hospital and kept there indefinitely. However, if found sane he faces 16 years to life in prison, Wagstaffe said.

Vargas' defense attorney, Constance O'Brien, didn't immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

The murder case against his co-defendant, Brandon David Thompson, 28, of San Mateo, goes to trial May 13. Thompson has pleaded not guilty to charges that he stabbed Chastain as he lay on the floor of Vargas' parents' Cypress Avenue home in San Bruno.

Prosecutors say an argument the night of April 10, 2011, set off the attack, in which Vargas struck Chastain, a San Bruno resident, with a pipe wrench. After his death, the suspects dragged Chastain's body into the driveway, but "due to the victim's large size," they couldn't get him into Vargas' car trunk, Wagstaffe said.

Thompson ran away, and Vargas went upstairs and woke his parents, who had been asleep during the attack, prosecutors say.


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Authorities have offered various theories for the slaying, including that it was possibly revenge for hurting one of the suspect's sisters. However, it remains unclear why the killing happened, Wagstaffe said.

Thompson and Vargas remain behind bars without bail. Vargas' sanity trial is scheduled to begin May 13.

Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.