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Woman, 23, Is Convicted of Murder in Death of Clerk : Court: Trial involved slaying of Burbank man. Jury convicts her of lying in wait, which carries maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.

March 11, 1993|ALICIA DI RADO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 23-year-old woman has been convicted of first-degree murder for hiring two gang members for $100 to kill a Burbank grocery clerk so she could continue a romantic relationship with the clerk's wife.

Pasadena Superior Court jurors handed down the final verdict against Maria Serrato of Hollywood on Tuesday after four days of deliberation. The jury also found the murder method included the special circumstance of lying in wait, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, Burbank police said.

"We're pleased that we were able to get a first-degree murder conviction," Deputy Dist. Atty. Mark Collier said. "Serrato was just as guilty as the shooters as an aider and abettor."

Jose Salazar, 37, was shot once in the head on Aug. 22, 1990, as he stepped out of his truck in front of his Burbank home. His 42-year-old wife Cecilia, who was in the truck with him, was not injured.

Detective David Gabriel said the chain of events that led to the killing began when Jose Salazar told his wife that he wanted her to stay away from Serrato, who had met his wife at a supermarket where both women worked. Jose Salazar was killed about three weeks later.

"Cecilia began to withdraw, so she (Serrato) decided that the best way to get her lover back was kill her husband," Gabriel said.

Collier said Serrato told police that she and Cecilia Salazar had been lovers, but Cecilia Salazar insisted they were just friends.

Serrato hired two 15-year-old gang members who lived near her sister's house in Los Angeles to shoot Jose Salazar, Gabriel said. Police said Serrato drove the youths to the Salazars' apartment, and as Serrato and the youths discussed their plans, Cecilia Salazar emerged from the building and hopped into a truck to pick up her husband from work, Gabriel said.

Serrato told the youths to await the Salazars' return, and parked around a corner with two other friends, Gabriel said. When the Salazars arrived, one of the youths shot the husband with a .32-caliber semiautomatic pistol and the youths ran to Serrato's car and sped away, he said.

After the shooting, Serrato paid the teen-agers $100, police said.

The two youths were arrested in July, 1991, Gabriel said, and were convicted of murder in back-to-back Juvenile Court trials in October and November, 1991. Both were sentenced to youth authority facilities until they turn 25, the maximum punishment for youths under 16 years old, he said.

Serrato will be sentenced in Pasadena Superior Court on March 30, police said. Prosecutors said she could have faced the death penalty, but the district attorney's office declined to seek that sentence.

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