Editor's note: Matthew Lander was acquitted of the two murder charges on Sept. 22, 2021 and the other five charges against him were dismissed on Feb. 19, 2019
FALL RIVER — Matthew Lander of Swansea might not have pulled the trigger.
But if found guilty of being the getaway driver for whoever did shoot and kill two Taunton brothers in 2008, he’ll likely receive a stiff prison sentence.
Lander, 28, was arraigned Wednesday in Fall River Superior Court on seven felony charges in connection to the execution-style slayings of 21-year-old Shawn Vargas and his brother Kevin, 23.
He was the second person arraigned this week in Fall River alleged to have been involved in the eight-year-old murder case.
Keith Cox, 26, of Berkley, was held without bail at his arraignment Monday after being indicted on two counts of murder and two counts of armed robbery.
The Vargas brothers were shot to death the afternoon of Feb. 24, 2008, inside a rear apartment at 729 Somerset Ave. Also in the studio apartment that day were Kevin Vargas’s 2- and 4-year-old sons, neither of whom were injured.
The charges against Lander include two counts each of murder, armed robbery, being an accessory to murder and one count of witness intimidation.
Lander, who has been serving a sentence in the Dartmouth House of Correction for a probation violation, entered a plea of not guilty to all charges.
Judge Raymond Veary ordered Lander held without bail pending a pretrial conference on Nov. 17. His Taunton-based lawyer John Dingee agreed that his client should be held without prejudice.
Prosecutors allege Lander was the getaway driver for the person or persons who shot to death the Vargas brothers at close range.
Assistant district attorney Dennis Collins, on Monday, told Judge Raymond Veary the Vargas brothers were involved in selling marijuana and were shot shortly after selling pot to Cox — who allegedly came back to the apartment and participated in a robbery that ended in murder.
Cox, according to Collins, also alleged that one of the Vargas brothers previously had taken part in an armed robbery of would-be marijuana buyers who were ripped off for $2,000.
Collins told the judge the case remains under investigation and that more arrests are possible.
After Lander was led away in handcuffs, friends and family of the victims said they were grateful that investigators were able to crack the case.
“His boys deserve justice; they miss their dad,” said Kyla Carroll, girlfriend of the late Kevin Vargas, and the mother of the two boys who were inside the apartment during the double shooting.
Carroll, 31, said although her sons still receive professional counseling, they have managed to adjust and are coping. One of them, she said, has been earning high honors at school.
“They’re doing quite well,” she said. “Obviously, it was a setback for them.”
Family friend Stacy Reynolds said if Lander is found guilty he should get the maximum sentence, even if he didn’t pull the trigger.
“He’s just as guilty, and I hope he gets life,” Reynolds, 28, said.
A first-degree murder conviction in Massachusetts carries a life sentence without chance of parole. A person convicted of second-degree murder is eligible for parole after 15 years.
Carroll said she thinks the killers probably thought the brothers had more cash inside the apartment than they actually did. She also said she’d urged the father of her children to steer clear of the people who ultimately took his life.
“I told him he should stay away,” she said.
Both Carroll and Reynolds said that Tina Vargas, the mother of Shawn and Kevin Vargas, is pleased with the progress of the case. They said she is still too distraught to talk to members of the media.
Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn said he understands how tough it’s been for the family these past eight and a half years.
“I want to thank the family for their patience,” Quinn said.
State trooper Christopher Dumont, the lead investigative detective, said he never lost hope that the case eventually would go to trial.
“It’s always been an open investigation — it’s never been a cold case,” said Dumont, who added that “other potential suspects” could eventually surface.
Assistant district attorney Stephen “Chuck” Nadeau is assisting Collins prosecute the cases.
This article originally appeared on The Herald News: Swansea man — alleged getaway driver in 2008 Taunton double murder — held without bail