The jury in the case against Marco Violante returned its verdict--guilty of murder in the first degree--and foreman Dale Correll went downstairs Friday with the others to sign out.
It had been a stressful trial, made all the worse by the viciousness of the crime and the import of choosing a verdict that could put a man in prison for the rest of his life.
Correll, of Eagle Rock, who had downed several cups of coffee during the morning break, went outside for a smoke. And there, commiserating with a colleague on the close-knit panel about the experience, the 69-year-old collapsed.
As horrified jurors looked on, paramedics applied electric shock to try to restart his heart, which had stopped by the time help arrived. He was bundled into a stretcher and rushed to Northridge Medical Center's Sherman Way campus, where he lay in a coma Friday afternoon.
Twenty-five-year-old Maria Ledroza of Granada Hills went to see him in the hospital. First the trial kept her up nights, with testimony like that of the victim's daughter, who saw her mother murdered.
Now this. "We used to take our breaks together," she said. "This is very hard for me."
Violante was convicted of one count of murder with a knife for stabbing Martha Vasquez to death on June 9, while her then-11-year-old daughter watched. Violante was also convicted of assault for kicking the daughter, Jesselyn Monge, in the face and for a previous battery of Vasquez.
"If there's any myth that domestic violence doesn't escalate to murder, this case shows that it does," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Eduards R. Abele, who prosecuted the case.
According to testimony by Vasquez's older daughter, Beatriz Hernandez, 17, Violante in February beat her mother and cut her with a knife. Hernandez said Violante told her then that she should "thank God I didn't kill her."
On the day she died, Vasquez took her daughter to meet Violante near Van Nuys Airport, which he worked near as an upholsterer. Vasquez, who was driving a friend's car, parked in an area set aside for viewing airplanes, according to testimony. Vasquez got out and talked with Violante, who was waiting there.
Then the two got back into the car, according to Abele, with Violante in the back seat and Vasquez and Jesselyn in the front. Then, Abele said, Violante began an attack so vicious that, according to two passersby, the car could be seen shaking wildly.
When it was over, Vasquez had 27 knife wounds, five of them deep enough to have killed her instantly.
Violante, still holding the knife, was arrested at a nearby business shortly after. He said in court that he only remembered parts of the incident. He said he did not set out to kill Vasquez. When he is sentenced Nov. 15, he will face a maximum of 28 years to life.
The jury in the case deliberated for a day and a half before returning the verdict in the weeklong trial. Mostly, jurors said later, they were arguing over whether the killing was premeditated.
Fellow jurors were shaken Friday by the tragedy.
Correll "came down to smoke a cigarette and just collapsed," said Sharon Cheek of Canyon Country, who also served on the jury.
Cheek said the jury had become very close during the trial. Correll's collapse came just 15 minutes after the panel delivered its verdict.
"It brings me to tears," said prosecutor Abele. "It's an incredibly sad event that follows one of the saddest cases I've had to handle."