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Teens shopped for party items with dead body in Jeep, girl says

Abusive BehaviorHomicideJustice SystemCrime, Law and JusticeHalloween

A 16-year-old girl charged with murdering her mother and stepfather testified Tuesday that she and her teenage boyfriend drove to buy food and party supplies with her dead mother's body in the back of their vehicle.

Cynthia Alvarez told jurors in Compton that she and Giovanni Gallardo bought glow sticks, flashing skull lights and knee-high stockings for a costume from a Party City store in the days following the Oct. 12, 2011, killings.

The young couple also purchased soda and chips from a discount store as well as beer at another shop for a Halloween party they were planning to throw, Alvarez said in court.

Gallardo, then 16, put up mini-bulb lights on the Compton trailer where Gloria Villalta and Jose Lara had been slain, said Alvarez, who is being tried as an adult. The teens sold jewelry from the home and parts from Lara's truck for cash, Alvarez testified.

The decomposing bodies of both adults were discovered buried in separate shallow graves within days of their deaths. Gallardo, now 17, is also charged as an adult and is expected to be tried on murder charges in the next few weeks.

Alvarez testified earlier this week that she and Gallardo buried the body of Lara, 51, on the night of the killings. Her mother, she said, would not fit in the same small grave so the teens kept her body in the back of Villalta's Jeep until they eventually dumped her at a vacant lot in Norwalk.

Alvarez, who was 15 at the time of the killings, testified on Monday that she did not carry out the attacks and did not want her parents dead. She said Gallardo was responsible for the slayings and that she had little control over what happened that night. She said she feared that her abusive boyfriend might hurt her if she sought help.

The teenager also testified that she kicked away a folding knife that her stepfather dropped when Gallardo attacked him with a baseball bat. She told the court that her boyfriend asked for help as he tried to strangle Lara and that she handed him a knife from the kitchen, which Gallardo used to stab her stepfather.

On Tuesday, however, Alvarez said she could not recall whether she or Gallardo was responsible for kicking away Lara's knife.

She said she felt paralyzed and wanted to flee in the days after the killings but feared Gallardo, who she said had previously held a knife and gun to her on other occasions. 

“He always told me if I ever did anything he would come and hurt me again,” she said in court.

Her attorney told jurors last week that Alvarez, who was in special education classes, has a language processing disorder and has trouble communicating.

Alvarez testified that her mother beat her and that her stepfather raped her and repeatedly molested her for about a decade.

Under questioning by Deputy Dist. Atty. Kristin Trutanich, the girl admitted that she had told child welfare workers during two different abuse investigations that she had not been victimized.

"My mom told me to lie," she testified.

Her older sister also testified on Tuesday, saying that Alvarez told her around 2008 that she had been abused by their stepfather but stopped short of saying she had been raped.

Choking back tears, Dayana Villalta, 31, told the court through a Spanish-language interpreter that Alvarez looked after her mother despite her mother using a belt to discipline her. She called Alvarez “very caring, respectful."

"She loved my mother very much,” Villalta said. 

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jack.leonard@latimes.com

Twitter: @jackfleonard

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