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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Caro Was an Abused Wife, Her Mother Says

Crime: Witness says her daughter had been beaten the night the three boys were killed. Judge orders her to stand trial.

March 23, 2000|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Speaking through tears from the witness stand, Socorro "Cora" Caro's mother testified Wednesday that her daughter was an abused wife who had endured a beating from her husband the night she allegedly used a Smith & Wesson revolver to fatally shoot three of their four children in the head.

But prosecutors presented evidence showing Caro as the one with the quick temper who was desperate at the thought of her successful physician husband walking out on her and leaving the family penniless.

"He doesn't want us anymore, mother," Juanita Leon told detectives her daughter said in the hours before the shooting. "He's gone now, I don't have any money, and I don't know what I'm going to do."

Caro's mother was the chief witness Wednesday during her daughter's preliminary hearing, which ended with a judge ruling there was enough evidence to try Caro on charges she killed the three boys. She also faces special enhancements for multiple murders and use of a firearm--charges that make her eligible for the death penalty.

Caro, 42, is accused of shooting Christopher Caro, 5, Michael Caro, 8, and Joseph Caro, 11, as they slept in the family's Santa Rosa Valley home Nov. 23. A fourth son, an infant, was unharmed.

Authorities said Caro then tried to kill herself, firing a single shot into her head.

Caro, her closely cropped black hair growing out after being shaved off for surgery, wailed loudly and buried her head on the defense table as her mother testified.

Leon, who said she often spent as many as five nights a week at her daughter's home to help care for her grandchildren, said her daughter's marriage had been very rocky since about last summer.

She said the pair fought often. Dr. Xavier Caro, a respected physician with a private practice in Northridge, lost a lot of weight. He stripped his wife of her credit cards and checkbook, Leon said.

An investigator for the district attorney's office, Dan Thompson, testified that Xavier Caro told him hours after the shooting that his marriage was troubled.

Caro, who purchased a home in Granada Hills and the two-story custom Mediterranean villa near Camarillo worth more than $1 million, said he had recently learned the couple were in dire financial straits, Thompson said.

The cause, he said, was his wife's excessive spending. He learned she had put her parents on the payroll at the medical office, even though they did not work there. Socorro's mother and father also lived in the Granada Hills home rent free.

After learning of the payroll incident, he fired his wife and restricted her access to the family's money, Thompson said.

Caro also acknowledged he had a "brief affair" in August. About that time, he visited a divorce attorney, and though he took notes during the meeting, he did not file papers at that time.

He later found his notes tucked in his wife's dresser drawer, Thompson said.

Xavier Caro told Thompson that his wife was desperately afraid that if he left her, she and the children would have no means of support. Caro tried to tell his wife that California law required him not only to support the children, but that she was entitled to half of the family assets.

"But she just didn't believe him," Thompson said. "She was of the mind that she and the children would be penniless."

On the night of the shooting, just days before Thanksgiving, the Caro family and Socorro Caro's parents were preparing to go out of town for the holiday. Juanita Leon was at her daughter's home helping out. Socorro Caro made a salad and a batch of margaritas for the adults for dinner, then made her sons macaroni and cheese.

During the meal, Joey smarted off to his parents, angering Xavier Caro.

After dinner, Leon said, she went to her room in the Caro house, but later came out to retrieve some leftover dinner. She found her daughter crying.

"Don't worry," she told her mom. "It has nothing to do with you." Xavier Caro was not going with the family for their Thanksgiving trip, she said.

Leon returned to her room, but could hear Xavier Caro yelling at his son from the next room. He took away the boy's television and video games as punishment for his behavior at dinner.

Leon remembered her daughter thought the punishment was too harsh. She heard her son-in-law's voice getting louder.

"Damn it," she heard him say to his wife, "get the hell out of my way."

Leon ran to the top of the stairway and, in the doorway leading to the master bedroom, found her daughter lying on the floor, her husband's foot planted on top of her. He appeared to be kicking her, Leon said.

"I told him to get the hell out," Leon testified. "I was tired of him doing this to my daughter."

Leon said the doctor turned to leave and she ran to comfort her grandson, Joey, who was awakened by the fighting.

After the doctor left, a crying Cora Caro told her mother she didn't know what she would do now that he was gone. The family, she said, would have no way to support themselves.

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