An Orange County jury Tuesday recommended the death penalty for a young mother of four for the brutal stabbing death of a 9-year-old girl during a burglary.
Maria (Rosie) del Rosio Alfaro, 20, of Anaheim could become Orange County's first woman--and the state's third--on Death Row when she is sentenced by Superior Court Judge Theodore E. Millard on July 14. No Orange County judge has overturned a death penalty recommendation since capital punishment was restored in 1978.
A Superior Court jury in April convicted Alfaro of first-degree murder during a burglary and robbery. But the same jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of the death penalty for Alfaro for the June 15, 1990, murder of 9-year-old Autumn Wallace of Anaheim. The girl was stabbed 57 times and bled to death on a bathroom floor.
A second Superior Court jury deliberated a little more than two days before rendering the unanimous recommendation Tuesday.
As the clerk read aloud the jury's recommendation, Linda Wallace, the mother of the victim, and another daughter wept as their supporters clapped and cheered. Alfaro's relatives, meanwhile, gasped aloud in disbelief.
Oblivious to the furor around her, Alfaro jerked upright, then covered her face with her hands and sobbed.
"I can't believe this. It can't happen to me. . . . Why did they (jurors) do this?" Alfaro's attorney, William M. Monroe, quoted her as saying.
"I'm probably as shocked by the verdict as Rosie Alfaro is," Monroe said outside the courtroom. "I still contend that this crime was committed by a person with an abandoned and malignant heart, and Rosie Alfaro is not (such) a person.
"I feel terrible, absolutely terrible for what happened to Autumn Wallace, but this little girl, this young woman-child, does not deserve" the death penalty, Monroe said, adding that he would file an appeal if Millard sentences Alfaro to death.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles J. Middleton said the jury's recommendation was "justified" and that he guessed the outcome when told jurors had reached a decision.
"I was sure it was a death verdict because I could not imagine 12 people agreeing that soon that this kind of a crime should not get a death sentence," he said.
After the verdict, a crush of photographers and cameramen captured the continuing panorama of grief and joy that emptied into the court hallway: Supporters of Alfaro, shielding their faces, deliberately turned their backs to spectators and stared silently out the window.
"Nobody wants to talk right now. We have no words," said a friend of the defendant.
A few feet away, Autumn Wallace's family members embraced each other and discussed their feelings about the jury recommendation.
Linda Wallace, 42, who has been in court every day since the trial began, said every moment "was worth it because of this verdict."
The death sentence recommendation "is what I wanted. (Alfaro) did a vicious thing and she got what she deserved."
Monday is the second anniversary of Autumn Wallace's death, and for the first time, family members will know peace when they visit her grave, said Autumn's sister, Amber Szabo.
"It's been two years of hell, and that's finally over," said Szabo, 24. "I'm just relieved with the verdict. Life wasn't good for (Alfaro). She brutally murdered my sister and she deserves to die."
During the trial, Alfaro, whose four children are under age 5, testified she was a drug addict and was "wired" on drugs the day Autumn was killed. She and two men drove to the house to burglarize it for drug money, she said.
Autumn had just come home from school and was waiting for her mother and sister to arrive from work. She let Alfaro into the house because she recognized the woman as being a friend of her sister.
Once inside, Alfaro rummaged through the house and found a knife while going through the kitchen, prosecutors said.
Autumn was playing with crayons and cutting papers when Alfaro lured her into the bathroom on the pretense of getting the girl to help her clean an eyelash curler, prosecutors said.
There, Alfaro stabbed the child several times, she testified. However, she maintained throughout her trial that the man who drove her to the house did the actual killing. She refused to name that person.
Linda Wallace later found her daughter lying in a pool of blood, an eyelash curler near her feet. Investigators found Alfaro's thumbprint in the bathroom and a bloodstained shoe print matching what prosecutors said was a sole of the shoes she wore that afternoon.
Prosecutor Middleton contended that Alfaro killed Autumn because she was the only witness to the burglary. After the killing, Alfaro ransacked parts of the house and stole electronic equipment, a telephone and clothes, prosecutors said. She told investigators she sold the loot for about $300 and used the money to buy drugs.
If sentenced to the gas chamber, Alfaro, would join two other women on Death Row. Maureen McDermott, a Los Angeles registered nurse, was convicted in 1990 of hiring a co-worker to murder her roommate so she could collect on a $100,000 mortgage insurance policy. Cynthia Lynn Coffman, 30, was convicted of the 1986 sex killing of a woman in San Bernardino. Coffman also faces a second death sentence in Orange County in the killing of another woman.
Times correspondent Maresa Archer contributed to this report.