A 16-year-old girl charged with murdering her mother and stepfather tearfully told a Compton jury on Monday that she did not kill them but admitted writing incriminating notes to her boyfriend and handing him a knife during one of the slayings.
Cynthia Alvarez testified that she kicked away a folding knife that her stepfather carried while her boyfriend, Giovanni Gallardo, attacked him with a baseball bat in her family’s Compton mobile home on Oct. 12, 2011. She said Gallardo used another knife she gave him to stab the victim multiple times.
Alvarez, who was 15 at the time of the killings but is being tried as an adult, said she struck her stepfather, Jose Lara, with the bat in the lower part of his body, fearing that her abusive boyfriend would hurt her if she refused to help him.
“I was shaking, so I didn’t hit him hard,” she told the jury.
Alvarez acknowledged writing several notes to Gallardo on the evening of the killings. One said: “I am to scared. I cannot do it.” Another ungrammatical note read: “What about if she going to her bed. Can you kill her.” A third said, “you do it.”
The girl testified that she intended for the notes to tell Gallardo she did not want to be involved in his plan. She said she was not encouraging him and did not want the couple killed but hoped he would carry out the killings out of her sight if he was going to do it.
“I didn’t want to see it in front of my face,” she said. “I might have flashbacks, like I do now.”
Her attorney told jurors last week that Alvarez, who was in special education classes, has a language processing disorder and has trouble communicating.
The bodies of Gloria Villalta, 58, and Jose Lara, 51, were found buried in separate, shallow graves. Gallardo, who was 16 at the time of the killings, is also charged as an adult and is expected to be tried in the next few weeks. The teens face life sentences if convicted.
Alvarez testified that her mother beat her and that her stepfather raped her and repeatedly molested her for about a decade. She admitted stealing about $2,000 worth of jewelry and cash from her mother, who she said accused her of stealing $27,000.
Alvarez said her boyfriend arrived unannounced at her home some time before the slayings.
“I’m going to kill your parents,” she said he told her.
“No,” she said she replied.
Gallardo repeated his intention to kill the adults but stayed outside until Alvarez invited him into her home an hour or two later as it got dark and colder, the girl testified.
Alvarez told the court that she left the home and was outside while her mother was killed. When she returned, Gallardo told her to remove her dead mother’s bracelet, she said. Gallardo dragged the body to another room and waited behind the front door with the bat as Lara entered about half an hour later, Alvarez testified.
She said she heard the sound of her stepfather’s bones crunching as Gallardo struck him in the face. She said she handed her boyfriend a knife after he asked for help while he struggled to strangle her stepfather.
Alvarez testified that she was fearful of Gallardo, who had pulled a gun and a knife on her in the past, and did not contact neighbors, police or anyone else for help after the slayings because she felt paralyzed. She said she did not believe anyone would have helped her because no one had intervened in the past when she told authorities and relatives about her mother and stepfather’s abuse.
“My mind was blank,” Alvarez told jurors. “My body wasn’t moving, but my spirit was. I just felt numbed, shaking, just panicking.”
Gallardo, she said, loaded the bodies into her mother’s Jeep Cherokee and the teens drove to a vacant lot, where her boyfriend dug a grave for her stepfather. The hole, she said, was not big enough to put her mother, so the teens left the decomposing body in the Jeep for several days before dumping it.
“What was the smell like in the Jeep?” asked her attorney, Carole Telfer.
“Death,” Alvarez said.
“Did you ever feel sick?”
“Yeah, but we rolled down the windows,” the girl responded.
Alvarez said she helped clean the house and threw some bloody items into the mobile home’s trash. She admitted lying to sheriff’s detectives when she was first questioned about her parents, telling them that her mother was in the hospital and that her stepfather had ordered her at gunpoint to throw away her mother’s clothes and photographs.
“You have no problem lying,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Kristin Trutanich suggested during cross-examination.
“Actually, I do have a problem lying,” Alvarez responded. “I can’t lie.”