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Convicted Killer's Lifestyle Led to Tragedy, Attorney Says

March 31, 1992|DONNETTE DUNBAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — An attorney for Maria del Rosio Alfaro, who could face the death penalty after being convicted of killing a 9-year-old Anaheim girl, on Monday said his client was a victim of the "dreaded disease of drugs" and oblivious of the crime she committed.

Defense attorney William M. Monroe, in an opening statement during the penalty phase of Alfaro's trial, painted the 20-year-old convicted killer as a "woman-child" whose lifestyle led to tragedy.

Last week, jurors convicted Alfaro of first-degree murder for stabbing Autumn Wallace 57 times in the bathroom of the child's home on June 15, 1990. Although the conviction could bring the death penalty, Monroe is seeking a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Tamara Benedict, 20, was one of seven witnesses called by the defense attorney. She testified that Alfaro often worked as a prostitute in exchange for cocaine and heroine, shooting up as much as 50 times a day for weeks at a time.

During cross-examination, Benedict told Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles J. Middleton that she and Alfaro would often sleep with drug dealers to support their expensive habits.

"We had no jobs at all," she said. "Sometimes we would steal from stores or get someone to steal for us."

Some jurors appeared shocked at Benedict's testimony, which included a matter-of-fact description of how the girls would mix cocaine and heroin to lengthen the drug's high.

Alfaro, wearing a floral blouse and blue stretch pants, cried throughout the testimonies of Benedict, her childhood friends, boyfriend Manuel Cueva and her mother, Silvia Melendez Alfaro.

Maria Alfaro sobbed when Cueva described her children's visits to County Jail, where she is being held while awaiting sentence.

Silvia Alfaro testified that her daughter started her life of drugs and prostitution when she was about 12 years old, becoming progressively worse until the birth of her first child, Daniel. Maria Alfaro enrolled in several drug treatment programs but would always go back to her drug habit after several months, her mother said.

During her pregnancies, however, Maria Alfaro usually managed to control her drug addiction.

At one point, Silvia Alfaro sent her daughter to live with a grandmother in Mexico, hoping the lifestyle would help her kick her drug habit. But when she came back, there was no change.

By the time she was 15, Maria Alfaro was out of control, her mother said.

"She wore heavy makeup, black clothes and was always dirty," said the mother, who choked back tears several times during the trial. "She didn't care how she looked."

Earlier, Superior Court Judge Theodore E. Millard agreed to a request from prosecutors barring testimony from two witnesses during the sentencing hearing.

The defense was hoping to call Norman Morien, a sentencing consultant, to talk about the conditions of the prison system for inmates sentenced to life without parole.

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