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Wife Gets 52 Years in Husband's Slaying

Courts: Judge rejects leniency plea and arguments that she dismembered spouse because she had been abused.

February 26, 2000|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — A 38-year-old Ventura woman who shot her sleeping husband and cut his body into pieces with an electric saw was sentenced Friday to 52 years to life in prison.

Superior Court Judge Herbert Curtis rejected pleas for leniency as defendant Gladis Soto slumped over a courtroom defense table, her dark hair shielding her face.

Her lawyers urged the judge to reduce a first-degree murder conviction to manslaughter, arguing that Soto was a battered wife who lashed out after enduring years of domestic abuse. They also pleaded with Curtis to strike a gun enhancement that tacks on an additional 25 years to life for someone with no criminal history.

"Nothing will bring back the father of Gladis' five children, but the court can ensure that they get their mother back," said attorney Kay Duffy. "She is not a coldblooded killer."

But Curtis told the lawyers that evidence presented at Soto's trial was compelling and supported the jury's finding that she committed premeditated murder.

Days before the killing, Soto purchased an illegal .25-caliber handgun from two men on a street corner. She put it in a kitchen cabinet and then fired a single shot into Pedro Alba's head as he slept in the couple's Ventura apartment Feb. 20, 1999.

Soto hid the body in a closet for several hours, then cut it up with a table saw in a garage. She was arrested after a transient spotted her in a dry riverbed setting fire to trash bags containing Alba's head, arms and legs.

Her husband's torso was later found in a suitcase in the family's garage.

Soto was convicted of murder and related charges Dec. 22 after a five-week trial. She is scheduled to appear in court next month for an unrelated trial on welfare-fraud charges.

At Friday's sentencing, Curtis told the attorneys he spent hours reviewing trial testimony and would not reduce the murder charge.

"I think the evidence is more than sufficient to show the defendant committed the crime," Curtis said.

Soto was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for the murder, and an additional 25 years to life for using a gun. Under state law, judges must impose the extra years if a jury finds that a gun was used in murder or another serious crime.

She received an additional two years because she was out on bail in a separate assault case involving her husband's girlfriend at the time of the homicide.

At the request of the defense, Curtis agreed to order a concurrent one-year sentence for Soto on the assault charge.

After the hearing, Deputy Dist. Atty. Patricia Murphy told reporters that Soto must serve the entire murder sentence and gun enhancement--a total of 50 years--before she is eligible for parole. She will be 88.

"This is a harsh penalty, but I think it is deserved," Murphy said. "A premeditated murder is about as serious a crime as you can get."

The ruling disappointed Soto's friends and supporters, who left the courtroom in tears.

"I know Gladis," said one woman, who declined to give her name. "I know she doesn't deserve that."

Soto wept throughout her trial, but on Friday she smiled at one of her friends as she was led to a holding cell and didn't shed a tear.

A tall, shy woman who was taking classes at Oxnard College to become a teacher, Soto did not make a statement before her sentencing. Through her attorneys, she requested a face-to-face visit with her five children before being sent to prison.

"For the last two months, she has been fully aware that this is the sentence that would be imposed," said attorney Jorge Alvarado. "It doesn't soften the blow."

Throughout Soto's trial, defense attorneys argued that she was an abused woman trapped in a violent marriage by a spouse who flaunted his extramarital affairs and humiliated his wife. Alba had been arrested for domestic violence in the past.

Defense lawyers told jurors that Soto lashed out in the heat of passion after being raped by her husband on the night of the killing and should not be found guilty of premeditated murder.

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