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Woman Given Death Sentence in Girl's Slaying

July 21, 1998| From Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — A 29-year-old woman will follow her husband to death row for the murder of their 4-year-old niece, who was beaten and starved for months before being scalded to death in a bathtub, a judge ruled Monday.

Superior Court Judge Michael Wellington, accepting a jury's recommendation, sentenced Veronica Gonzales to death for the 1995 killing of Genny Rojas.

She and her 31-year-old husband, Ivan, who was sentenced to death in January, become the first married couple in California on death row for the same crime.

Gonzales wept quietly as Wellington announced his decision. He could have set aside the jury's recommendation and sentenced her to life in prison without possibility of parole.

The death sentence will be automatically appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The judge also denied motions by defense lawyers for a new trial and for a reduction of her conviction from first-degree murder to second-degree murder.

Genny was sent to live with the Gonzaleses and their six young children in Chula Vista in 1995 because her mother was in drug rehabilitation and her father was in jail for child molestation.

Testimony during Veronica Gonzales' trial showed that for six months Genny was abused--forced to live in a box, hung by her hands from a hook in a closet and burned with a hair dryer.

On July 21, 1995, she was pushed into bathwater so hot that her skin peeled from her body. An autopsy found that she had been burned to death over a period of about two hours.

A jury convicted Gonzales in May of first-degree murder with special circumstances of torture and mayhem.

Defense attorney Michael Popkins, in arguing for a sentence less than death, said Gonzales was a first-time offender and a battered woman dominated by her husband. He said her judgment was impaired by the crystal methamphetamine she had been taking.

The judge said he had little doubt the methamphetamine impaired her judgment but that he believed she still could understand criminal conduct.

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