Teenagers sentenced to life in prison for double murder

A 17-year-old girl and her 18-year-old boyfriend, convicted last year of murdering the girl’s parents, were sentenced Friday to life in prison. 

Cynthia Alvarez, who was 15 years old at the time of the October 2011 killings, was tried as an adult along with her boyfriend, Giovanni Gallardo, 16 at the time. Alvarez admitted on the stand that after the slayings they drove in her mother's Jeep Cherokee -- with her mother's decomposing corpse in the back -- to buy supplies for a Halloween party.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ricardo R. Ocampo found that the slayings were vicious and sophisticated attacks on vulnerable victims. Under his sentence, Alvarez is eligible for parole after 51 years while Gallardo is not eligible for parole because of a law mandating tougher sentences for people older than 16 committing murder. Attorneys for both defendants said they planned to appeal. 

Alvarez, reading from a written statement, told the court before the sentencing that she was scared of "doing life." She said that regretted her mistakes and that prosecutors were making her look like a monster.  She argued at trial that her mother and stepfather were abusive.


"I just need to remember my past is my past," Alvarez said.

A niece of the stepfather and the stepfather's sister, speaking to the judge, denied allegations that the stepfather was abusive.

At the Alvarez family's mobile home in Compton, Gallardo was alleged to have strangled Alvarez's mother, Gloria Villalta, 58. He then beat her stepfather, Jose Lara, 51, with a baseball bat and stabbed him with a kitchen knife several times. Prosecutors alleged the attacks were part of a planned ambush.

The couple dug a shallow grave for Lara's handcuffed, blanket-covered body near a high school in Long Beach. Villalta's body was discovered by a jogger in a vacant lot in Norwalk. The legs and hands were tied, and the face covered with a cloth fastened by duct tape.

Alvarez's public defender told jurors that Alvarez, who was in special-education classes, had a language processing disorder and has trouble communicating. Deputy Public Defender Carole Telfer also argued that the mother had been violent and that the stepfather had sexually abused Alvarez. Telfer said the parents had once tied up Alvarez using electrical cords.

Alvarez also accused her boyfriend of being abusive and said she did not seek help because she was scared of him. She told jurors that they left her mother's body in the car for several days after it didn't fit into the same grave as the stepfather's.

Meanwhile, they visited a Party City store for Halloween supplies, cleaned up blood with a mop and napkins and then decorated the trailer where the murders occurred. They traded in the parents' jewelry and car parts for cash.

"I was mad at her," Alvarez testified when asked why she had previously stolen from her mother. "She cared more about money, how to gain more money instead of loving me as a daughter."

Gallardo admitted to being involved in hiding the bodies. But his public defender had argued that the conflicting reports Gallardo provided detectives showed that he had been improperly steered to confess his involvement. Gallardo told detectives that he was angry that Alvarez's parents wanted her to end the couple's relationship.

An expert testified during Gallardo's trial that the teenager's low IQ meant he was likely to act without a proper consideration of the consequences. A jury deliberated for an hour before convicting him. Gallardo did not make a statement Friday. 

Alvarez and Gallardo met at Dominguez High School about a year before the killings. Prosecutors opted not to seek the death penalty in their cases because of their ages.