A 16-year-old girl was found guilty Friday of murdering her mother and stepfather, capping a two-week trial in which the teen admitted driving to buy party supplies while her mother’s decomposing body was in the back of her vehicle.
Jurors quickly rejected defense arguments that Cynthia Alvarez was an innocent victim of horrific abuse who had been helpless as her violent teenage boyfriend killed her parents in her Compton mobile home in October 2011.
After deliberating about three hours, the jurors found her guilty of first-degree murder in both killings, with some members of the panel saying outside court in Compton that they believed Alvarez plotted and actively participated in the slayings.
“I thought she was the mastermind,” said one juror, a 59-year-old maintenance worker with the Air Force.
He and other jurors, who declined to give their names, mentioned notes that Alvarez wrote to her boyfriend while he was hiding inside her Compton home shortly before the killings. One of the ungrammatical notes read: “What about if she going to her bed. Can you kill her.” Another said, “you do it.”
Alvarez, who was 15 at the time of the killings but was tried as an adult, admitted on the stand that she had signaled to her boyfriend when her mother moved from the kitchen to the bedroom. That signal, the juror said, was clearly a cue for her boyfriend, Giovanni Gallardo, to strike.
Jurors also pointed to Alvarez’s admission that she and Gallardo had driven in her mother’s Jeep to buy supplies for a Halloween party with her mother’s body in the back of the vehicle.
“If you’re innocent, you’re not going to ride around for three days with your mama in the back of the car,” said another juror, a 47-year-old janitor.
The bodies of Gloria Villalta, 58, and Jose Lara, 51, were found in separate, shallow graves miles apart. Lara, whose body was discovered in Long Beach, was handcuffed and his corpse covered with a blanket. Villalta had been strangled or smothered and dumped in Norwalk. Her head was wrapped in duct tape and her pedicured toes were sticking out from the ground.
Alvarez insisted that Gallardo was responsible for the slayings and that she’d had little control over what happened. She told jurors earlier this week that Gallardo, then 16, had previously threatened her with a knife and a gun and that she feared he might hurt her if she sought help during the killings.
During closing arguments this week, Deputy Dist. Atty. Kristin Trutanich zeroed in on Alvarez’s admission that she had kicked away a knife that dropped from her stepfather’s pocket as her boyfriend ambushed him with a baseball bat. The prosecutor also noted that Alvarez admitted handing Gallardo a kitchen knife, which he used to stab Lara 11 times.
The girl told jurors that the notes she wrote were not to encourage her boyfriend but that she hoped he would carry out the killings out of her sight if he was going to do it. Her attorney argued that Alvarez, who was in special-education classes, has a language-processing disorder and has trouble communicating.
Jurors rejected that argument, noting that Alvarez’s IQ was 109, in the high range of average. They were also critical of the defense emphasis on the alleged abuse of Alvarez at the hands of the victims. Alvarez testified that her stepfather sodomized her in 2008 and molested her for about a decade. Her mother beat her with a belt, she said.
One juror said the abuse provided a possible motive for Alvarez to murder her parents. Others said it appeared to be an attempt to distract from the evidence against her.
“I didn’t kill my [mother] and she whooped me,” the janitor said.
Jurors also criticized Deputy Public Defender Carole Telfer’s decision to put her client on the stand.
“The biggest piece of evidence for both the prosecution and the defense was her own words,” another juror said. “If she had had a better defense, it would have helped her a lot.”
Telfer declined to comment.
Alvarez is scheduled to be sentenced next month and faces a term of 51 years to life in prison. The murder trial for Gallardo, who is now 18, is scheduled to begin next week.