Simi Valley serial rapist Vincent Sanchez was sentenced to death Tuesday for the kidnap-slaying of a 20-year-old community college student, a crime that stunned residents in the relatively crime-free suburb.
Sanchez did not ask for leniency or plead for his life during the court hearing.
Instead, the 33-year-old construction worker apologized and told Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ken Riley that he deserved to die for killing one woman and raping numerous others.
“I am willing to accept the death penalty, I feel I do deserve it for all the things I have done,” Sanchez said in a soft voice. He offered no explanation for the July 5, 2001, slaying of Moorpark College student Megan Barroso, but read a poem in which he called her an “angel” and said he had intended to end his life that night, not hers. “How it came to this,” he said, “is still unknown to me.”
Moments after Sanchez spoke, Riley ordered him to die by lethal injection for shooting, abducting and attempting to rape Barroso as she stopped at an intersection near her Moorpark apartment.
In doing so, Riley upheld the verdict of jurors who earlier this year found Sanchez guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping and attempted rape.
Sanchez showed no reaction as the judge handed down the sentence, which included multiple life prison terms for rape, kidnapping and sex assault convictions involving a dozen other women. He pleaded guilty to those crimes before his murder trial began.
In court Tuesday, two assault victims and members of Barroso’s family urged Riley to severely punish Sanchez for destroying so many lives.
“I hope you won’t take it easy on him, because he didn’t take it easy on us,” said a woman identified as Alicia, one of the women Sanchez attacked after slipping into their Simi Valley homes. Alicia, 29 at the time, fought off the defendant after a violent struggle in which he hit her over the head with a beer bottle.
“The defendant has earned the death penalty with his barbaric acts against the women and children in this community,” said Art Barroso, Megan Barroso’s father. He called Sanchez, who sat with his eyes downcast, a coward who hid behind the threat of knives and guns to control women, and said he should now “die like a man.”
Megan Barroso disappeared in the early hours of July 5 after leaving a friend’s house in Newbury Park. Her bullet-riddled car was found abandoned on New Los Angeles Avenue with the engine running, and a month later her partly nude body was found in a ravine in Simi Valley.
The medical examiner determined she had died from a gunshot wound to the abdomen, and testified that she could have lived for hours or days before succumbing to the injury. The remains were too decomposed to determine whether a sexual assault had occurred.
Sanchez was arrested on suspicion of murder after his housemates found Barroso’s blood-stained jacket at the residence they shared. They also provided investigators with the murder weapon, an AK-47 assault rifle that belonged to one of them.
At trial, prosecutors portrayed Sanchez as a sexual predator who between 1996 and 2001 attacked a dozen women using knives and other weapons.
Deputy Dist. Attys. Dee Corona and Lela Henke-Dobroth argued that Sanchez became increasingly brazen, taking victims to his rented tract house and videotaping himself raping them. One of those tapes, which depicts a man in a ski mask raping a 20-year-old woman as she cries and begs him to stop, was played for jurors over defense attorneys’ objections.
In closing arguments, prosecutors said Barroso’s slaying was a continuation of Sanchez’s sex-motivated attacks. They theorized that he pulled her from the car, tried to rape her and then left her in the ravine to die.
Deputy Public Defenders Neil Quinn and Jan Helfrich called that theory bogus. They admitted that their client had killed Barroso, but said there was insufficient evidence of a kidnapping or rape attempt.
They suggested instead that Sanchez had fired the assault rifle in a drunken rage after a breakup with his girlfriend, hitting Barroso and rendering her unconscious within seconds as she drove into the intersection.
Quinn argued to jurors that the sudden deceleration of her car as it rolled onto the center median of New Los Angeles Avenue was compelling evidence of her loss of consciousness, which could have been swiftly followed by death.
On Aug. 5, jurors rejected the defense theory and convicted Sanchez of first-degree murder, kidnapping, attempted rape and related allegations. They returned a death verdict a month later.
In court Tuesday, Riley offered no comments as he sentenced Sanchez to death.
Under state law, the trial judge in a capital case must decide whether there was evidence to support the jury’s sentence or whether it should be reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
At a hearing a day earlier, Riley ruled that evidence presented at Sanchez’s trial supported the verdict. He denied a defense request for a new trial and a separate motion to reduce the penalty to life in prison.
It took Riley about three hours Tuesday to formally sentence Sanchez to the additional rape, kidnapping, burglary and assault charges to which he had previously pleaded guilty.
Outside the courtroom, Lindsay Gross, 23, said there was no penalty severe enough to punish Sanchez for taking the life of her friend. Gross, who was the last person to see Barroso before she was abducted by Sanchez, said Tuesday: “Five minutes don’t go by that I don’t think of her.”