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Davis Reverses Board, Won't Parole Abused Woman Convicted of Murder

June 23, 2002|ANNA GORMAN and DAREN BRISCOE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Gov. Gray Davis has denied parole to an abused woman convicted of killing a man in 1981, despite a determination by the state Board of Prison Terms that she was violently raped and continuously abused by him and that she should be released from prison.

The governor acknowledged that Maria Suarez, 42, suffered from battered woman syndrome at the time, but said there were conflicting accounts about her role in soliciting the murder of Anselmo Covarrubias.

"There is a serious dispute as to what role Ms. Suarez played in instigating and planning the crime," Davis wrote in his review of the case. He also cited police reports suggesting that Suarez "acted not just because she was battered, but that she was motivated by jealousy, fear and greed."

Covarrubias had placed Suarez's name on the title to his house because he was involved in divorce proceedings with his ex-wife, but had demanded that she return that title.

Davis directed the board to continue investigating Suarez's case and wrote that he may consider the issue again at her next hearing. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office and the Sheriff's Department oppose paroling Suarez, according to the governor.

Suarez's niece, Patricia Valencia, said she questioned the governor's motive in reversing the parole board.

"We feel it's more of a political decision," she said.

Davis has only paroled two murderers out of the more than 80 cases he has reviewed. Both parolees were women who killed after years of abuse and both were convicted before the state allowed testimony on battered woman syndrome to be presented in court.

He has, however, denied parole requests to other women in similar situations.

Experts say battered woman syndrome is a behavioral condition that afflicts those who are systematically abused. Feeling powerless or fearing reprisals, victims tend to stay in abusive relationships and may ultimately see suicide or homicide as the only way out.

Suarez was convicted of first-degree murder in 1981, after living for five years with a man 50 years older than her who threatened to use witchcraft to kill her family if she told anyone about the rape, according to the governor's review.

Suarez was 16 when she left Mexico and moved to the United States in 1976 to live with her sister. She went to Covarrubias' home soon on a promise of work. She may have been purchased by Covarrubias for $200, the review says.

For the next five years, documents say, Covarrubias abused Suarez sexually, physically and psychologically.

On Aug. 27, 1981, Rene Soto, a man who lived across the street from the couple, killed Covarrubias by hitting him repeatedly with a wooden table leg. Soto and another woman were also convicted in the killing.

Authorities said Suarez helped plan the murder and then cleaned and hid the weapon.

Suarez's supporters started an organization called Women in Prison to advocate for her release.

Max Blumenthal, the group's assistant director, said the governor's decision shows that he is not taking battered woman syndrome seriously.

"It sends a message to battered women and all women that Davis doesn't trust them and won't take their words over those of their abusers," Blumenthal said.

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