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Ventura County

Father Speaks Glowingly of 3 Slain Sons

Courts: Xavier Caro testifies in the penalty phase of his wife's murder trial. Under cross-examination, he admits hitting her.

November 29, 2001|STEVE CHAWKINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three-year-old Gabriel Caro has always called his brothers "the guys."

When his father took him back to their house in the Santa Rosa Valley for a brief visit a week or two after the three boys were slain by their mother, Gabriel looked everywhere for them.

"Guys?" he called out. "Guys . . . guys?"

Xavier Caro choked back sobs in a Ventura County court Wednesday as he told of Gabriel's futile search. He also beamed as he recounted proud moments in the lives of the sons he lost.

The physician testified in a hearing that will end with jurors recommending either the death penalty or life in prison without parole for his wife, Socorro Caro, who was convicted of first-degree murder Nov. 5.

While his testimony about his sons was poignant, Xavier Caro also admitted under cross-examination that during his 14-year marriage, he once forced himself on his wife sexually. He testified that on several occasions, he hit her--but only in self-defense, he said.

In the trial's penalty phase, defense attorneys are trying to persuade jurors that Socorro Caro was a loving mother who, drunk and depressed, snapped under the strain of a crumbling marriage.

Prosecutors are painting her as a chronically violent woman who deserves to die--a mother who used her children to punish her husband with an unimaginable loss.

Jurors on Wednesday viewed a brief videotape of scenes from the boys' lives and heard Xavier Caro speak glowingly about each of his sons.

Although he was beset by attention deficit disorder, 11-year-old Joey was a precocious reader who devoured Star Wars books and memorized entire Nintendo magazines, Xavier Caro said.

"My Joey knew everything about Star Wars," he said, recounting how his son once gently corrected another boy standing in line for a "Star Wars" film.

"The force cannot be used for evil," Joey said.

Joey loved movies, and the whole family would go with him. At one point in "101 Dalmatians," Joey started howling along with the dogs.

"Before you knew it, the whole movie house was howling," Xavier Caro testified, chuckling. "The adults were all laughing. It was great. . . ."

At 8, Michael was "an easy child, a piece of cake," his father said. "Sometimes I wondered if he even needed a daddy."

An athlete and a budding musician, Michael was one of the most popular boys in his class. He also was unashamed to express love for his brothers, choosing to sleep in the same bed as 5-year-old Christopher, who was afraid of the dark.

Xavier Caro said he suspected that Michael was also afraid, but was touched when his son told him: "You know, Daddy, Christopher gets scared. I have to sleep with him. . . "

Christopher, endowed with a quick wit, was probably the smartest of the three, according to his father. He never let the opportunity for a joke go by; at a kicking drill during his first soccer practice, he solemnly intoned: "To be or not to be--that is the question"--a bit of Shakespeare that Xavier Caro figured his son had picked up from a cartoon.

Punch Dropped Her Like 'Sack of Potatoes'

But fond memories of the boys vied for the jurors' attention with ugly moments from the Caros' marriage.

Under questioning from Assistant Public Defender Jean Farley, Xavier Caro admitted that during an argument, he once punched his wife so hard that "she fell like a sack of potatoes."

However, he added, she had come at him first, "punching me like a windmill."

He also acknowledged that one night in 1995, he forced his wife to have sex with him. That was the only such incident in their marriage, he said.

Judge Is Urged to Sequester Jury

The testimony came as attorneys for both sides tried to flesh out incidents of violence and conflict in the Caro home. Trying to cast her as abusive, prosecutors pointed to Socorro Caro punching her husband and hurling objects at him. For their part, defense attorneys have not denied the behavior but suggest that it was Xavier Caro who prompted much of it.

As jurors were on a break Wednesday afternoon, Farley asked Superior Court Judge Donald D. Coleman to consider sequestering them for the remainder of the trial.

She was upset that the Ventura County Star was running a readers' poll about her client's fate on its Web site and feared that some of their jurors might take their cues as they deliberate from acquaintances' remarks about the poll.

Coleman rejected the suggestion, but reminded jurors to steer clear of Web sites that might provide news of the trial.

Since their work began Aug. 22, he has reminded jurors several times daily not to read or view news accounts of the trial.

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