After four days of deliberation, a jury Tuesday convicted serial rapist Vincent Sanchez of the brazen kidnapping and murder of a 20-year-old Moorpark College student in a case that stunned residents in relatively crime-free eastern Ventura County.
The jury found Sanchez guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping, attempted rape and related special circumstance allegations in the fatal shooting of Megan Barroso.
Superior Court Judge Ken Riley ordered jurors to return Monday to begin the penalty phase of the trial. The jury must now decide whether Sanchez, 32, a former construction worker already facing a life prison term for a string of rape convictions, should be executed for killing Barroso.
Sanchez sat with his head bowed and did not face jurors as Riley read the verdicts before a courtroom filled to capacity. Barroso's parents and brother sat silently as the judge spoke. Sanchez's family sat several feet away, his father gripping a wooden cane.
Before returning their verdict Tuesday, jurors had asked questions indicating a possible split over the special allegations, prompting Riley to ask lawyers how he should proceed if the jury returned hung on some counts.
Indeed, jurors hung on two questions related to whether Sanchez had a specific intent to kill Barroso during a kidnapping. Prosecutors, however, said the deadlock does not affect the main criminal counts, or findings that trigger a penalty phase.
In addition to the counts involving Barroso, the jury found Sanchez guilty of assault with a deadly weapon and attempted kidnapping for attempting to run a 21-year-old woman off the road in Simi Valley in October 2000. The woman was not in court when the verdicts were announced.
After the jury was excused, attorneys for both sides and relatives of Barroso hurried from the courtroom and declined to comment.
During the upcoming penalty phase, prosecutors are expected to present evidence from Barroso's family and friends on the effect her slaying has had on their lives. They are also expected to present additional evidence involving Sanchez's prior crimes, which were testified to at length during the murder trial.
The July 5, 2001, slaying of Barroso, gunned down as she drove home from a friend's house, proved to be one of the last crimes Sanchez carried out before his arrest and subsequent conviction as the long-sought Simi Valley serial rapist. For five years Sanchez slipped undetected into the homes of young women and sexually assaulted them at knifepoint. Some he raped in their beds. Others he kidnapped and raped at other locations, including the rented tract home he shared with four roommates.
The series of sex crimes frustrated authorities in Simi Valley, routinely ranked as one of the safest cities in the nation. Rewards were offered. Simi Valley detectives consulted with an FBI profiler, and officers began collecting saliva samples from arrestees in hopes of finding a DNA match to evidence recovered from rape victims.
The break came in July 2001, about two weeks after Barroso's bullet-riddled car was found abandoned on New Los Angeles Avenue in Moorpark. Sanchez's roommates found a bag containing women's clothing, jewelry and videotapes, one of which showed a masked man raping a screaming woman.
Police matched the items to unsolved rapes and arrested Sanchez. He was later charged with murder after the roommates found Barroso's bloodstained jacket at the house and detectives matched an assault rifle at the residence to bullet casings found near Barroso's shot-up car.
Sanchez pleaded guilty to criminal charges for sexually assaulting a dozen women between 1996 and 2001, including a Woodland Hills resident kidnapped and raped five days after the Barroso shooting.
But he pleaded not guilty to charges that he killed Barroso during a kidnapping and rape attempt. His lawyers called the shooting an act of rage and not sexually motivated.