EL MONTE — For the parents, sisters and adult children of Rudy Jaime, the holiday season always meant rowdy visits from the bighearted sheet-metalworker, who dropped off Christmas trees on their doorsteps, or boxes filled with a ham, candy and fruit.
Eight days before Christmas this year, Jaime's relatives gathered again. But it was an emotional reunion--held in Pomona Superior Court. The family--30 members strong--went for the sentencing of the two men convicted of killing their generous patriarch.
On Oct. 7, 1991, Jaime was stabbed 37 times with a steak knife and a fork in his El Monte home. The furious assault, during which Jaime's aged dog also was knifed, left blood spattered on the kitchen walls.
Convicted of first-degree murder were Conrad Estrada, 22, and Michael Siqueros, 35.
Estrada, an ex-convict whom Jaime befriended, had nine blood-soaked dollars in his pocket when arrested minutes after the killing, police said.
Estrada and Siqueros were sentenced Thursday to life in state prison without possibility of parole.
The murder was one of the more than 2,400 homicides reported in Los Angeles County last year. Jaime's was yet another killing arising from a robbery.
But Deputy Dist. Atty. Linda Chilstrom, who prosecuted the case, said the devotion shown by Jaime's family--many of whom took personal leave and vacation days from work to show up in force every day of the trial--made the case stand apart.
"Each of us did lose a son, a brother or a father," explained Jaime's son, Alfred, 27, of the family response. "But he was more like a friend to all of us. Each of us had our own individual relationship with him."
"We always depended on Rudy," said the dead man's sister, Irene Randazzo, 43.
Family and friends meant everything to Rudolph Jaime, said relatives who met last week to reminisce.
He was a small man at 5-foot-4, but Jaime cut a distinctive figure with his muscular, wiry build, a white-haired goatee and baseball cap, they said. A union sheet-metalworker with 34 years of experience, he rose before dawn, put in a full day's work and, in the afternoons, stopped by the home of his 78-year-old mother and 83-year-old father in El Monte to see if they needed anything.
He avoided formal Sunday services, yet frequently dropped by Epiphany Catholic Church in El Monte to pray alone, said his daughter, Yvonne, 32.
Jaime's three sisters and three children each bore a nickname--such as Squirrel, Bones or Sluggo--that he had bestowed on them.
Openly affectionate, he hugged and kissed family members and frequently told them how much he loved them. Often, he surprised them with gifts, or cut them in on product discounts, or sales items he had received, family members said.
His generosity extended beyond family, though. The church has a wrought-iron fence fashioned by Jaime, said Yvonne. His dog, Junc, who survived the attack, was a stray picked up as a puppy from a litter left behind at a concrete company scrap yard where Jaime did odd jobs.
And he was known to willingly help strangers, including one Mexican immigrant whom he took into his home for a time several years ago, after he found the man stranded beside a freeway in San Diego.
Such generosity may have been his undoing, Chilstrom said.
When a former next-door neighbor needed a place to stay, he took her in as a housekeeper. When the woman's daughter paid a visit and brought her children and boyfriend, Estrada, along, Jaime opened his doors to them as well.
"I used to warn him about Conrad (Estrada). . . . He was in the County Jail, and he'd make phone calls to Dad, collect," said Jaime's son, Alfred, a Vernon police officer. "But my Dad said, 'I feel sorry for the kid. No one will talk to him. I'm the only one he can reach.' "
A few days after his release from jail, Estrada, together with Siqueros, called on Jaime, ostensibly to retrieve a television set belonging to the housekeeper. The two left but returned five or 10 minutes later. They forced their way into Jaime's home, murdered him and were ransacking it when police, alerted by neighbors, arrived, Chilstrom said.
At the sentencing, Pomona Superior Court Judge Robert Martinez recalled the numerous murder trials he has presided over and said of Jaime's slaying: "None has been more vicious than this one, none has been more unjustified. I can only imagine the terror and the pain and the fear that that man suffered."
Said Alfred Jaime, the police officer: "You always come into contact with things like this at work. But you never expect it to happen to a family member."
Jaime's sister, Edna Hernandez, 46, said the killing has been especially hard for the family to accept because of its suddenness and its brutality.
Once they learned of the attack, family members raced to Greater El Monte Hospital from homes in Anaheim, West Covina, Montebello and Pico Rivera. But Jaime died before any of them arrived.
"We couldn't let him know we were there. We couldn't say goodby," Hernandez said, wiping away tears.
Jaime's mother, Julia Jaime, said the life sentences made her feel a little better, knowing that her son's murderers cannot be released to harm anyone again. But she said she is troubled by recurring dreams. In one, she spots her son's red truck at a hardware store, enters and is overjoyed to see him.
"I get so excited to see him that I wake up," she said, her eyes, too, welling with tears. "I never get close enough to touch him."