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Her Future Grim, Alfaro Looks Back : Interview: Facing a death sentence for the murder of a 9-year-old girl, the O.C. woman denies guilt, blames drugs and copes with memories.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the past two years, Rosie Alfaro has tried to block from her mind that murderous afternoon. She was high on drugs, so the memories are hazy anyway.

Still, she can’t help but remember little Autumn Wallace with her trusting smile. And how that innocent grin faded as she was stabbed to death. Alfaro can’t recall if the little girl cried out in pain, or if she even said anything as her life ebbed away.

“I was too high; I just remember her looking at me,” Alfaro said in an interview at the Orange County Jail. “Before, sometimes at night, the day would come back, and I’d block that out. Now I think about it more and more, because blocking is not working.”

Last week, a Superior Court jury recommended that 20-year-old Maria (Rosie) del Rosio Alfaro be sentenced to death for the June 15, 1990, murder of Autumn Wallace. The 9-year-old was stabbed more than 50 times, her lifeless body found on a bathroom floor.

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If a Superior Court judge on July 14 approves the jury’s recommendation, Alfaro, a mother of four, will be the first Orange County woman condemned to die in the gas chamber. She would join just two other women on California’s Death Row.

On Tuesday, when the jury’s recommendation was read, Autumn Wallace’s supporters cheered. The victim’s mother, Linda Wallace, said she was elated with the jurors’ recommendation and, if given the chance, would be at Alfaro’s execution.

“I know it’s hard for the Wallaces to forgive me, and I don’t ask for their forgiveness,” Alfaro said. “If it had been one of my kids that was killed--I’m a mother too--I’d probably do the same thing: celebrate.

“I just want them to know that I’m truly sorry for what happened. . . . But I also wish that they would believe me, that there was a third person there.”

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During an hourlong interview Friday, Alfaro reiterated her claim that she is innocent of murder. She tearfully admitted that she stabbed Autumn several times but maintained that she went to Autumn’s house with two men and that one of them did the actual killing. As in her trial, Alfaro did not name the man, saying that to do so would jeopardize the lives of her family and her four young boys.

“If I wasn’t so scared my family would get hurt, I’d tell the truth, but I just can’t,” she said.

In a harshly lit corner of the jail’s visiting room, Alfaro looked considerably older than her 20 years. Drugs and prostitution can do that to you, she said.

She blames that fateful summer afternoon on her drug addiction.

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“I do think that someone has to pay for what happened to that poor little girl, and that’s me,” she said. “But I can’t help thinking how my life stopped, ended, at 18, and that I have no future, and all that is because of drugs.”

Alfaro testified at her trial that she had been “wired” on drugs that day and wanted more drugs to satisfy her cravings. Needing money for her habit, she went to the Wallace house to burglarize it.

Autumn had just come home from school and was waiting for her mother to arrive from work. She let Alfaro into the house because she recognized her as being a friend of her older sister, Amber Szabo.

Prosecutors said Alfaro lured the little girl into the bathroom and killed her to eliminate a witness. On the stand during the penalty phase, Alfaro insisted that a third person forced her to stab the child and later killed Autumn himself.

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After the killing, Alfaro looted the house of electrical equipment and clothes and sold the goods for about $300.

Most of the jurors in her trial said that they did not believe her “third man” testimony. They deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of the death sentence. Alfaro did not testify for the second jury, and the panel unanimously recommended death.

She did not want to testify a second time, Alfaro said, because Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles J. Middleton intimidated her with his intense questioning during the first penalty phase. He made her defensive even as she was apologizing to the Wallace family, she said, making her testimony sound contrived.

“I regret not testifying” the second time, she said Friday. “I really wanted to go up there . . . but I was just scared of” Middleton. “I was sincere (the first time), and I wouldn’t change anything. I really do feel bad about what happened, but I didn’t want the jury to think, you know, I’m phony.”

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Since the jury returned its recommendation of death, Alfaro said, she spends her time in her cell thinking about her drug-filled teen-age years, what happened to Autumn and how one day her four children will have to be told about their mother.

“God, I hate to think of the future, because there’s not a future for me and my kids,” she said. “It’s going to be up to (them) if they still want to call me mom when they find out. I know they’re going to find out sooner or later, and I’m scared of what they’re going to decide.”

She’s mentally preparing herself for the next visit from her 4-year-old son, the eldest of her children. He’ll want to know why during court proceedings her feet were shackled together and one of her hands was handcuffed to her belt loop. She won’t tell him it’s standard procedure for inmates facing a death sentence.

“Maybe one day I’ll tell him, but not now; he’s too little,” she said. “Now the only thing I’m thinking is I’ve got to live day by day the best way I can.”

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Living for the moment means not thinking about the death sentence. “Until July 14, I’m going to block out that I will be sentenced . . . because it’s still hard for me to sit here and think that this is really happening,” Alfaro said. “I’m good at blocking things out.”


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