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Ex-Husbands Testify in Penalty Phase of Nieves Trial

Court: Both tell of the pain of losing two daughters in a fire set by their mother. She could face execution.


Testifying through tears Tuesday, two fathers described the lingering pain of losing their daughters, more than two years after their mother murdered the children.

Sandi Nieves, 36, set her house on fire in 1998, trying to commit suicide and take her children with her because she wanted to take revenge on the men in her life, according to prosecutors. She was convicted last week on four counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Jaqlene and Kristl Folden, 5 and 7, and Rashel and Nikolet Folden-Nieves, 11 and 12. They died of smoke inhalation

"We try to move on, but each day is a struggle," said Fernando Nieves, father of the two older victims. "There's always a cloud of sorrow."

David Folden, father of the two younger girls, said "the pain doesn't go away. . . . It's no different today from what it was two years, one month ago."

By testifying for the prosecution during the first day of the penalty phase of the trial of Sandi Nieves, her two ex-husbands were implicitly urging the San Fernando jury to sentence her to death.

The jury of five women and seven men who found Nieves guilty must now decide whether Nieves deserves death or life in prison without parole. Nieves also was found guilty of arson and of attempted murder of her teenage son, David Nieves, who was in the house but survived.

"There can be only one appropriate punishment for what the defendant has done to these four little girls . . . and that is the punishment of death," Deputy Dist. Atty. Kenneth Barshop told jurors Tuesday.

But the death of the girls "does not warrant the death of Sandi Nieves," said Deputy Public Defender Howard Waco. He had argued unsuccessfully that Nieves was legally unconscious at the time of the deadly blaze.

"She is not a danger to society," Waco said. "None of us is without flaws, including Sandi. . . . She started to crack under the stress of being a single parent."

Nieves was born and raised "in a dysfunctional environment," Waco said. At one point she was married to her former stepfather.

Waco told jurors that Nieves was a good mother who had "one torturous night" after a boyfriend dumped her, after she underwent an abortion that conflicted with her religious beliefs, and after Folden's attempt to reverse his adoption of the three older children.

"She slowly became unglued," Waco said. "She had no ill will toward her children."

Her two ex-husbands called Nieves a manipulative woman who tried to use her children as pawns in custody battles.

Her son, now 16, still has nightmares about what happened and at times is quiet and withdrawn, Fernando Nieves said. "He's not enthusiastic about life. . . . Who at his age had to know that his own mother tried to kill him?"

The mother has mailed her son letters from jail, he said, but the boy either returns them unopened or throws them out.

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