A 20-year-old mother of four became the first Orange County woman condemned to Death Row when a Superior Court judge on Tuesday sentenced her to die in the gas chamber for the fatal stabbing of a 9-year-old girl during a burglary.
In upholding a jury's recommendation that Maria (Rosie) del Rosio Alfaro of Anaheim be sentenced to death for the slaying of Autumn Wallace, Judge Theodore E. Millard denounced the murder as the most "senseless, brutal, vicious and callous" killing he has ever known.
The sentence will automatically be appealed to higher courts.
A jury in March convicted Alfaro of first-degree murder during a burglary and robbery. But the same jury deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of recommending the death sentence for the June 15, 1990, murder of Autumn in her Anaheim home. The young girl was stabbed 57 times and left to bleed to death on a bathroom floor.
A second jury last month unanimously recommended the death sentence after a retrial of the penalty phase.
Tuesday, relatives of the victim and the defendant sobbed as two mothers--one fighting on behalf of her child's memory and the other for her daughter's life--addressed the court.
Her voice breaking, Linda Wallace, 42, told Millard that during the trial her daughter was known simply as a young victim stabbed to death by someone she trusted. She said she wanted everyone to know Autumn was more than just a name, that her blond-haired, brown-eyed daughter was an A student who loved swimming and fishing and who wanted to be an artist when she grew up.
Wallace said she lives "the nightmare daily of what Autumn went through the last moments of her life." She said she wants Alfaro to pay for her crime by being executed.
Alfaro's mother, Silvia Alfaro, 38, implored the judge to spare her daughter from the death sentence.
"The first time that I came here, I felt like I was sitting in the electric chair," she cried. "I beg you, please forgive my daughter and please forgive what she did."
She broke down and ran from the courtroom. At the same time, Linda Wallace closed her eyes and wiped away her tears.
Wallace said afterward that Alfaro's death sentence has finally given her peace. Her life has been in limbo since the day she came home from work and found her daughter's body in a pool of blood, she said.
"What (Alfaro) did was horrible; I will never forgive or forget her," Wallace said. As for Silvia Alfaro: "I really feel for her because I know what it's like to lose a daughter."
As he has done throughout the trial, Alfaro's attorney, William M. Monroe, reasserted his client's claim of innocence. He asked that Millard reconsider Alfaro's youth, her drug addiction, as well as her being a mother of four young boys and send her to prison instead of the gas chamber. The jury, he claimed, made a mistake in their recommendation.
Millard dismissed the claims, saying that Alfaro made her own choices in life and that she cannot blame her actions on others. Furthermore, the judge added, based upon the evidence presented in court, he is doubtful that Alfaro could adequately take care of her children.
Monroe said outside of court that he felt racial misconception played a vital role in the minds of the jurors who recommended the death penalty. He claimed that Alfaro's predominantly white jury "could not empathize, understand or relate" to the plight of a Latino woman trapped in a world of drugs.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles J. Middleton, who prosecuted the case, brushed aside Monroe's claim of jury bias and said the defendant was convicted only on the facts of the case.
During the trial, Alfaro testified that she was a drug addict and was high the day Autumn was killed. Accompanied by her 14-month-old son and two men, she said she went to the house that day to burglarize it for drug money. She said she left her son outside with the men--one of whom Millard pointed out had just been released from prison--while she went into the house.
Autumn recognized Alfaro as being a friend of her older sister and let her in to use the bathroom. Once inside, Alfaro 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. There, Alfaro stabbed the child several times, prosecutors said. 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.
Prosecutors said Alfaro never brought up the subject of a man being in the house until she was assigned a defense lawyer. Even then, they said, it wasn't until someone asked her if there was another person inside the house that Alfaro came up with her claim that there had been an accomplice.
Investigators could find no evidence that anyone besides Alfaro and Wallace family members had been in the house that day. But they did find Alfaro's fingerprints in the bathroom and a bloodstained shoe print matching what prosecutors said was the shoes she wore that afternoon.
Middleton contended that Alfaro killed Autumn because she was the only witness to the burglary.
Alfaro will join two other women on Death Row: Maureen McDermott, a former Los Angeles registered nurse who was convicted in 1990 of hiring a co-worker to murder her roommate so she could collect on a $100,000 mortgage insurance policy; and Cynthia Lynn Coffman, 30, a St. Louis woman who was convicted of the 1986 kidnap-murder of a woman in San Bernardino.
The three are the only women in California to receive death sentences since 1978, when capital punishment was restored.