Teen testifies she went shopping with mother’s body in Jeep

The teenage couple drove to the shops in search of supplies for a Halloween party.

They visited a Party City store, purchasing glow sticks and knee-high stockings for a costume. They went to a discount store and bought sodas and chips.

Cynthia Alvarez, 16, told jurors Tuesday that she and her boyfriend ran the errands in her mother’s Jeep Cherokee. But what appeared to be the normal preparations for a teenage soiree was anything but.


In the back of the SUV, Alvarez acknowledged, lay her mother’s decomposing body.

Testifying at her murder trial in Compton, Alvarez said she and her boyfriend, Giovanni Gallardo, went shopping in the days after her mother and stepfather were slain. Gallardo, she testified, hung mini-bulb lights on her family’s Compton mobile home, where he had killed the couple on Oct. 12, 2011.

Alvarez, who was 15 at the time of the killings but is being tried as an adult, told jurors this week that she was at home at the time but did not kill the adults. She said she felt powerless to stop the crimes, testifying that she feared her boyfriend would hurt her if she sought help.

The bodies of Gloria Villalta, 58, and Jose Lara, 51, were found buried in separate shallow graves. Alvarez told jurors that she and Gallardo buried her stepfather on the night of the killings but that the hole her boyfriend dug was not large enough to include her mother. She said the young couple kept her mother’s body in her Jeep for several days, eventually burying her in a vacant lot in Norwalk.

Gallardo, now 17, is also charged with murder and is expected to be tried as an adult in the next few weeks.

During her two days on the witness stand, 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 that she did not want to be involved in his plan. She said she was not encouraging him and did not want the couple dead but hoped he would carry out the killings out of her sight if he was going to do it. The notes were written before her mother was killed, Gallardo said.

“I didn’t want to see her being murdered in front of my face,” she said on Tuesday.

Her attorney told jurors that Alvarez, who was in special-education classes, has a language processing disorder and has trouble communicating.

The teenager testified Monday that she kicked away a folding knife that her stepfather dropped when Gallardo ambushed him with a baseball bat when Lara returned home. She told the court that her boyfriend asked for help as he tried to strangle Lara and that she handed him a knife from the kitchen, which Gallardo used to stab her stepfather.

On Tuesday, however, Alvarez said she could not recall whether she or Gallardo was responsible for kicking away Lara’s knife.

She said she felt paralyzed and wanted to flee in the days after the killings but feared Gallardo, who she said had previously held a knife and gun to her.

“He always told me if I ever did anything he would come and hurt me again,” she said in court.

Alvarez testified that her mother beat her and that her stepfather raped her and repeatedly molested her for about a decade. She reported the sexual abuse to a sheriff’s detective in 2008 but later recanted. She admitted she told child welfare workers that she had not been victimized.

“My mom told me to lie,” she testified.

After the killings, Alvarez said she and Gallardo obtained cash by selling jewelry from the home as well as parts from Lara’s truck. She admitted stealing money and jewelry from her mother in the past.

“I was mad at her,” the girl said when asked why she had previously stolen from her mother. “She cared more about money, how to gain more money instead of loving me as a daughter.”

Alvarez’s older sister also testified Tuesday, saying that Alvarez told her around 2008 that she had been abused by their stepfather but stopped short of saying she had been raped.

Choking back tears, Dayana Villalta, 31, told the court through a Spanish-language interpreter that Alvarez looked after her mother despite her mother using a belt to discipline her. She called Alvarez “very caring, respectful.”

“She loved my mother very much,” Villalta said.