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Mother Gets Death in Slayings of 3 Sons

Sentencing: Ventura County judge upholds jury's recommendation in the case of Socorro Caro, who shot the young boys as they lay in their beds.

April 06, 2002|STEVE CHAWKINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Ventura County judge sentenced child-killer Socorro Caro to death Friday, upholding the recommendation made by the jurors who convicted her of first-degree murder last year.

Superior Court Judge Donald D. Coleman said the 45-year-old woman's execution is warranted by her "mass murder of innocent children."

Caro dabbed at her eyes with a tissue as the judge handed down the sentence.

Caro was convicted of shooting three of her four young sons as they lay in bed in the family's posh Santa Rosa Valley home. During her four-month trial, her children's teachers and family friends testified that Caro was a loving mother. But that reputation did not diminish the brutality of her crime, Coleman ruled.

Under California law, judges must review cases in which juries opt for the death penalty, independently deciding whether that recommendation is better justified than life without parole. Jury decisions have been changed in only a handful of cases, and in at least one the death sentence was reinstated by a higher court.

In the Caro case the aggravating circumstances were overwhelming, Coleman told a packed courtroom.

He offered a quick outline of the Nov. 22, 1999, slayings: Drunk and convinced her physician husband, Xavier Caro, was leaving her, Caro placed her .38-caliber revolver against the temple of her sleeping 11-year-old, Joey, and pulled the trigger. She then went into the bedroom shared by 8-year-old Michael and 5-year-old Christopher. Michael died instantly after a bullet pierced his brain. Christopher received two rounds, apparently sitting up and facing his mother after the first shot.

Coleman echoed a point made repeatedly by prosecutors during the trial: Before attempting to kill herself, Caro turned Joey's body over so his face would be seen immediately by his father.

She used her children as "symbolic, sacrificial pawns in a failed marital relationship," Coleman said.

A defense psychiatrist had theorized that Caro's main intent was suicide but felt that the children would be better off dead than without her.

That portrayal, however, didn't sway the judge. "It shows her lack of acknowledgment of the independent rights of her children to have their lives," he said.

As she was being led away for a lunch break, Caro paused before her husband, who was sitting in a front row. "How could you do this to us?" she yelled. "How could you? Look at him, he's smirking...."

Xavier Caro did not respond.

After the hearing, however, he had a spokesman distribute a written statement.

"There can be no joy in this decision, only some measure of resolution," he wrote. "My heart goes out to members of the jury. As a physician and as a Catholic, I understand the issues they had to balance in their decision-making and will always be grateful to them for their service."

Xavier Caro said his surviving son, Gabriel, "is my reason for being and has kept me focused on a better future." He was 13 months old when his brothers were killed.

Half a dozen jurors were among the observers in the courtroom Friday. They declined comment, as did members of Caro's family.

After the hearing, prosecutor Cheryl Temple said Coleman made the right decision, calling Caro "selfish and vindictive."

Irene Zavala, a volunteer jail chaplain, disagreed and said Caro had been railroaded. "A great injustice has been done here," said Zavala, who showed up to support Caro throughout the trial.

Earlier, Coleman denied a request for a new trial from Caro's lead attorney, Assistant Public Defender Jean Farley, who based her motion largely on an affidavit from C. Anthony Anderson, a juror tossed off the panel for discussing the case outside the jury room with another juror.

Coleman ruled that Anderson's complaints were not substantial enough to prove Caro did not get a fair trial.

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