SANTA ANA — An Orange woman was sentenced Friday to six years in prison for helping her husband kill their daughter, possibly during an attempt to exorcise demons they claimed had possessed the little girl's soul.
Beatriz Morales, 48, was convicted of second-degree murder in the slaying of Lisa Morales, who disappeared sometime between 1977 and 1979 when she was no more than 5 years old. Her husband, Marcos Morales, 56, was convicted earlier of first-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
During her sentencing, Beatriz Morales sobbed while delivering a sometimes incoherent statement in which she apologized for her actions, but contended that she was a victim of her husband's abuse.
"It's easy for society to ask why I didn't leave, but if it were so easy, my daughter would probably be alive today," Morales told the court.
She also said she would like to help battered women someday, and longed to hold Lisa again, however, "I know I can't, so I hold her in my heart and in my mind."
The Morales case is unusual because Lisa's parents were charged in 1991 and convicted last October largely on the testimony of their own surviving daughters. One of them recalled the slaying with the help of a therapist.
Beatriz Morales Quintero, 22, who says she was forced to have a child by her own father, testified that she heard her parents screaming about demons one night while in the bathroom of their Tustin home with Lisa.
She said she later saw her little sister floating face down in the bathtub "all blue." Quintero testified that the family then drove to Mexico, where her father buried the girl near a beach.
Lisa's body has never been recovered so prosecutors were not able to establish a precise cause of death or when she died.
Such questions worked to Beatriz Morales' advantage on Friday, when Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard L. Weatherspoon ruled that he had to sentence Morales using the most lenient guidelines.
The little girl was most likely killed between 1977 and 1979. During that period, the maximum prison term for second-degree murder changed from seven years to 15 years to life in prison. Authorities said there is the possibility that Lisa was slain before the change, hence the benefit of the doubt must be given to the defendant.
Court records made available during the sentencing suggest that both Beatriz and Marcos Morales were abusive to their sons and daughters; however, the father's behavior was described as bordering on the sadistic.
Between them the couple had "about 20" children, and Marcos Morales once bragged about "sexually breaking in" his daughters, court records state. For punishment of misdeeds, he would shave the girls' heads, pelt his sons with golf balls or make them stand on their heads as he forced pepper up their noses, according to a probation report.
Once, Marcos Morales hurled a 3-month-old child against a wall, severely injuring the infant's tongue, authorities said.
Court records indicate that Lisa received the most severe abuse, apparently because Marcos Morales did not believe he was the father. Both parents allegedly called the girl "evil" and claimed she was possessed by the devil.
Neighbors said that Lisa appeared malnourished and was often kept locked up naked and filthy in the bathroom. Neighbors also reported to authorities that they saw bruises and burns on the child.
"I simply cannot get out of my mind's eye (Lisa) standing there, hair mangled and matted, hungry, thirsty and scared and the defendant calling the child wicked and evil," Weatherspoon told the court.
During the trial, the judge did not allow defense attorney Randolph K. Driggs to use the so-called "battered woman's defense" because it applies only to victims who turn on their assailants.