Art Barroso sat before a jury Monday and compared his slain daughter to the delicate orchids he used to grow.
"Megan to me was like a bloom that was about to open," said the Moorpark man, speaking in a low, quavering voice tinged with pain. "She was a beautiful young lady about to flourish."
Last week, a jury found serial rapist Vincent Sanchez guilty of first-degree murder and related charges for shooting 20-year-old Megan Barroso in her car at a Moorpark intersection, then dragging her away and sexually assaulting her before she died.
On Monday, Ventura County prosecutors launched the penalty phase of Sanchez's trial by presenting evidence of how Barroso's July 5, 2001, slaying has devastated her family and friends. Sanchez faces a possible death sentence.
Art Barroso and Suzan Barroso, who divorced when their daughter was a young child, both testified to the emotional scars they carry as a result of her death.
Suzan Barroso told jurors about the phone call that changed her life. It was July 5. Her ex-husband told her Megan was missing, possibly kidnapped.
Searchers later found her body under a pile of brush in a ravine in Simi Valley.
Two years later, Barroso said, she cannot look at a full moon without being haunted by thoughts of what her daughter felt that night before she died beneath the same moon. "I think about her lying there in that canyon," she said. "She was so pretty, so dainty."
Asked by Ventura County Deputy Dist. Atty. Dee Corona what her daughter's death has meant to her, Suzan Barroso replied: "I feel like a part of me is gone."
A Vietnam veteran, Art Barroso said that the fact that his daughter was shot by an AK-47 assault rifle has compounded "the horribleness of this whole nightmare."
He testified that he saw fellow soldiers ambushed and gunned down by combatants using the same weapon, and prayed from the battlefield to be rescued from the horror of war.
"I wanted someone to come and save me," he said. "She probably wanted me to come and save her."
Jurors will consider the parents' testimony when they decide whether to sentence Sanchez, 32, a former Simi Valley construction worker, to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In opening statements of the penalty phase Monday, attorneys from both sides gave jurors an idea of what they will hear from witnesses during this segment of the trial.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Lela Henke-Dobroth said Barroso's family members and a close friend will provide testimony about her uniqueness as a person and the enormous effect her death has had on their lives.
Additionally, three of Sanchez's prior sex assault victims will testify about how those attacks have altered their lives. Two took the stand Monday afternoon.
Sanchez has pleaded guilty to multiple rape, kidnapping and burglary charges in connection with a dozen sexual assaults in Simi Valley between 1996 and 2001. Jurors heard testimony about those crimes during the first phase of the murder trial and are allowed to consider that evidence when deciding Sanchez's fate.
Beyond those crimes, jurors will also learn about a 1992 child-abuse case in which Sanchez admitted injuring a teenage girlfriend's 13-month-old baby. Five witnesses, including a doctor and two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, are expected to testify about the incident.
Deputy Public Defender Neil Quinn said he will try to give jurors a more complete picture of Sanchez, whom he described as a "complex, troubled man."
Evidence will show Sanchez grew up in a household controlled by an alcoholic, abusive father who provided a model for violence and bad relationships, Quinn said. Sanchez struggled with low self-esteem that led to depression, anger and eventually a mental disorder that lies at the root of his sexual deviancy.
Two mental health experts will testify that Sanchez is unable to control his impulses and suffers from the type of mental disturbances that commonly qualify rapists for hospitalization, Quinn said.
The defense will further present evidence to show that despite his crimes, Sanchez possesses redeemable qualities that jurors must consider in determining his sentence.