Smirking and minimizing his criminal conduct to the end, David Alvarez was sentenced Thursday to 25 years to life in prison for the slaying of Kali Manley, the Oak View girl whose disappearance and death punctured the illusion of safety for residents of the Ojai Valley.
Against the advice of his attorneys, the 23-year-old defendant stood in Ventura County Superior Court and read a handwritten statement in which he said he isn't even sure the 14-year-old girl died at his hands.
"There was absolutely no scratches on my body to suggest Kali was fighting me off," he said in also denying he tried to rape the girl, as prosecutors suggested.
Members of a crowded courtroom audience shook their heads in disbelief, and the victim's parents walked out in disgust as Alvarez read his statement. "He's an idiot," said Charles Manley, the slain girl's father. He vowed to fight any chance of parole for his daughter's killer.
Kali Manley disappeared on Dec. 20, 1998, after leaving a sleepover at a girlfriend's house with Alvarez and his friend, Robert Miears. The disappearance triggered a massive search that ended a week later when Alvarez led authorities to the girl's body, stuffed into a drainage pipe in the mountains above Ojai. She died from asphyxiation, the coroner said, noting wounds that may have been caused while fighting off an assault.
Although he pleaded guilty last month to first-degree murder, Alvarez distanced himself from the crime Thursday and accused prosecutors of planting evidence against him.
"As far as the death of Kali Manley, I am responsible for that," he said, admitting that he choked the Nordhoff High School freshman. But Alvarez, who has said he was high after a two-day cocaine binge, suggested Manley actually died as a result of a drug overdose, or possibly exposure to the cold, rather than from being choked. Outside the courtroom, Manley's father told reporters the defendant's comments show he cares only about himself.
During Thursday's sentencing hearing, Charles Manley, his wife, Holly, and oldest daughter, Chelsea, described the pain they have suffered as a result of Kali's murder.
His voice seething in anger, Manley turned to face Alvarez and told Judge Rebecca Riley that he also died when his daughter's life was cut short.
"David Alvarez killed my daughter while attempting to rape her. He has dragged my family and my community through hell," Manley said. "It has shattered my life."
The father, an Oxnard elementary school teacher, is haunted by visions of his daughter fighting off Alvarez, he said. Manley told Riley his family suffers from depression, insomnia and feelings of helplessness.
Alvarez's recent statement to a newspaper that he never tried to rape the girl only worsened the pain, he said.
"Some of my loved ones sweat anger out their pores, and there is nothing I can do," he said.
Chelsea Manley, a recent graduate of Ventura High School, tried to focus on the positive aspects of her younger sister's life rather than the circumstances of her death.
She brought photo albums and samples of her sister's artwork to show the judge, telling Riley her sister's life was snuffed out just as it was beginning to blossom.
"I hate this monster David Alvarez," she said. "For the rest of my life I have to worry if he will get out."
A high school dropout and son of wealthy restaurant owners, Alvarez was charged last spring with murder and attempted rape in connection with Kali's slaying.
The California attorney general agreed to prosecute the case after Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury raised concerns about keeping the case because he is friends with the defendant's parents.
Last month, Alvarez's lawyers approached state prosecutors on the eve of trial and offered a deal: Alvarez would plead guilty to first-degree murder, punishable by a mandatory 25 years to life in prison, if prosecutors would drop the attempted rape charge.
Charles and Holly Manley said accepting that agreement was the most difficult decision of their lives. They eventually agreed to avoid a lengthy trial in which their daughter's reputation could be attacked, they said.
Evidence presented during a preliminary hearing last year showed Kali Manley had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana hours before Alvarez showed up at her girlfriend's house. He left with Manley, bought wine coolers and went to a trailer in the Ojai area owned by his family.
According to Alvarez's friend Miears, Manley and Alvarez went into a back bedroom. At some point, Alvarez came out and declared with a vulgar expletive that he intended to have sex with the girl.
During Thursday's hearing--which was videotaped for the parole board--defense attorney James Farley asked Riley to release forensic evidence that he said could clear his client of the attempted rape allegation.