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Fear Drove Son to Kill His Father, Jurors Told

December 15, 1988|DREW SILVERN | Times Staff Writer

The two most important women in Arnel Salvatierra's life--his former girlfriend and his mother--told a jury in his murder trial this week that the youth was driven by fear to kill his father.

Salvatierra had planned the killing, including his own alibi, for days, his ex-girlfriend said. His mother said her husband's death had liberated the family from years of physical and psychological abuse.

Her son, now 20, is charged as an adult in the 1986 shooting death of his father, Oscar, a local representative for the San Francisco-based Philippine News.

The case briefly drew international attention when police reported that Arnel Salvatierra had received a death threat in the mail the day before his body was found in the bedroom of his family's Glendale home.

Coming at a time of political upheaval in the Philippines, the unsigned letter said Salvatierra had been sentenced to death for the paper's "unwarranted accusations" against Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Arrested 2 Days Later

Two days after the Feb. 19 shooting, Arnel Salvatierra, then 17, and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Teressa K. DeBurger, were arrested and charged with the crime.

DeBurger, who now works as a secretary, is awaiting trial on the felony charge of being an accessory after the fact. She is accused of helping Salvatierra obtain the handgun used in the killing and of helping him launder his bloodstained clothes.

She was the prosecution's last witness, appearing under a grant of limited immunity, so that her testimony cannot be used against her.

DeBurger told a jury Monday in Pasadena Superior Court that on the day of the killing, Arnel Salvatierra admitted that he shot his father. She said Salvatierra assured her that he would not be caught because the police would think the death was a political assassination.

"He was in an average normal mood, and I asked him if he had really done it," DeBurger testified. "He said he had. When I asked him about details, . . . he said I didn't want to know because it was too awful."

According to police reports, Oscar Salvatierra was shot three times in the face while he lay sleeping in his bed.

DeBurger testified that she went to the Salvatierras' north Glendale home later that day because Arnel Salvatierra had told her it "would look good if I was there, like he was grieving." When she arrived at the house, DeBurger told the jury, Salvatierra looked "really upset." She added, "But when I got into his room he was fine."

Under prompting from Deputy Dist. Atty. Susan Wondries, she described how Salvatierra had originally planned to kill his father Feb. 14th, but had been thwarted when his father worked late.

Defense attorneys Abramson and Marcia Morrissey have already conceded that their client killed his father. But they contend that he reacted out of fear that his own life was in danger.

Plan for Alibi Told

Under cross-examination by Abramson, DeBurger said that on the night of Feb. 14, she drove Salvatierra to his father's Los Angeles office and waited in her car for 2 1/2 hours while Salvatierra tried to find his father. When Abramson asked if Salvatierra had planned to shoot his father and then rush with her to a school-sponsored Valentine's Day dance to establish an alibi, a soft-spoken DeBurger said, "Yes."

Also under cross-examination, DeBurger testified that in the weeks before his father's death, Arnel Salvatierra was growing increasingly desperate because of their own deteriorating relationship and because he was failing most of his classes.

When asked if Arnel Salvatierra told her that when his father found out about his grades, "either he would kill his father, or his father would kill him," she also said yes.

Tuesday, the defense called Arnel Salvatierra's mother, Ligaya.

Speaking with a heavy accent, Ligaya Salvatierra, a pharmacist, said she has always been the family's source of financial support, and said her husband was a dominating man who began abusing his children when they were babies.

Mother Tells of Beatings

For Arnel Salvatierra, the family's oldest child, those beatings began when he was he was 4 months old, she said.

"As a baby Arnel would cry all the time before he went to sleep. One night Oscar had him in his arms. He was putting him to sleep. Arnel kept crying. So Oscar started hitting him in the back with his hand until Arnel was screaming," she testified.

"Oscar threw him on the bed and said, 'Don't touch him. He'll stop crying. He knows why I'm hitting him.' I left him alone. He would have started hitting me."

Ligaya said her husband would regularly beat his children over the smallest domestic disagreement, and on occasion would humiliate her in front of the family, ordering the children to call her stupid and dumb.

Iron Rule Described

"No one could object to Oscar," she said. "That was the rule of the house. Nobody even argued with him. 'If I say it's black, it's black, even if it's white,' he used to say. That was the rule."

Ligaya Salvatierra said the intensity of the abuse increased toward the end of 1985, when her husband began to complain that the family didn't have enough money and that his children were too "Americanized."

She said he bought a shotgun in October and began to threaten the family whenever there were disputes.

Ligaya Salvatierra said she had hoped that her husband would divorce her. But she was afraid to divorce him because he had threatened her life.

"He said he would write to Sacramento and get my pharmacist's license number and use that to find me," she said. "He said he'd blow my head off, kill the children, and then kill himself."

When asked by Abramson to describe her life now without her husband, Salvatierra replied, "It's a different life we have now. We can think for ourselves, we can do anything we want. No one rules us or tells us what to do. It's a better life, a much better life."

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