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Man Says He Killed Girlfriend's Family

October 01, 2003|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

On the eve of testimony in his murder trial, Michael Naranjo entered a surprise guilty plea Tuesday to fatally stabbing four members of his teenage girlfriend's family in a bloody rampage three years ago at their home in Pico Rivera.

Jury selection had already begun when Naranjo pleaded guilty to four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, charges that will bring him a sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole.

He had not been offered any plea deal and has not agreed to testify against his girlfriend, Monica Diaz, who is also charged in the killings and is set to go to trial in December.

The guilty pleas angered Sylvia Flores, whose husband and three children were stabbed as they slept in their home on Marjorie Street. Flores was also wounded during the attack and still has an inch-long scar on her chin.

"I got shortchanged," said Flores, who was in the Norwalk courtroom when Naranjo changed his plea. "Three years waiting to go to trial and for what? I get no answers.

"I need to know why."

Early on July 21, 2000, Naranjo entered the house through a door that Diaz left open for him, according to police. The young couple stabbed Flores, her husband, Richard, 42, and three of their children, Sylvia, 13, Matthew, 10, and Richard Jr., 17, authorities said. They allegedly went from bedroom to bedroom, slashing the family members before Naranjo fled on his bicycle to his parents' home a few miles away.

Within days, detectives found the fingerprints of Diaz and Naranjo on knives and duct tape at the home. Both teenagers, who attended El Rancho High School, were arrested and charged with the killings.

In an interview from jail last year, Diaz said she felt like she didn't belong with her adoptive family -- her aunt and uncle and their children. She felt that only her boyfriend appreciated her. Naranjo said he was sad about the deaths but wouldn't talk about the crimes.

Naranjo, 20, changed his plea Tuesday afternoon in Judge John A. Torribio's Norwalk courtroom. Before accepting the plea, Torribio made sure Naranjo understood that he would never be getting out of prison, attorneys said.

Naranjo also admitted in court that he confessed to the crimes in a letter mailed from jail to Diaz and Diaz's defense attorney, prosecutors said. The letter laid out a chronology of the events on the day of the murders.

Deputy Public Defender Charles J. Cervantes said his client wanted to step forward and accept responsibility for the unprovoked crime and didn't want to put the family and relatives through any more pain. He gets no benefit from pleading guilty, Cervantes said.

"He was acknowledging that this was a horrible, beyond painful experience, for everyone involved and that he didn't want them to have to relive that night of horror," he said.

The evidence in the case was also consistent with Naranjo "participating as an actor in these crimes," Cervantes said. Authorities said Naranjo and Diaz planned the murders and that Naranjo did most of the stabbing.

Cervantes, who described himself as a hardened criminal defense attorney, said the whole family being killed in one night affected him deeply. Cervantes said it is highly unlikely that Naranjo will testify against Diaz, 19.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin McCormick said he also was surprised by the change of heart, because he did not offer to drop any charges in exchange for a guilty plea. Naranjo pleaded guilty to every count, allegation and special circumstance. McCormick said that he also has not offered a plea deal to Diaz, who faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.

McCormick said there was overwhelming blood, fingerprint and ballistic evidence against Naranjo, which he planned to present at the trial this week. The blood on Naranjo's bicycle matched that of the victims, McCormick said.

"It was one of the best cases I've ever had," he said. "There was no place for him to go."

McCormick said the crime scene in the case was mortifying. "The fact that human beings could do to a family what he obviously did is beyond comprehension," he said.

Diaz's half sister, Laura Reta, who was not injured, said Tuesday that she also feels cheated because she will never know why her family was killed.

"I was kind of happy and kind of crying at the same time," she said. "It's finally going to end, and that's what we've been waiting for."

Reta hopes to get some answers during Diaz's trial.

"I don't know how to feel with her," she said of Diaz. "I can't say I love her and I can't say I hate her. I'm still confused. With Michael, I can say I hate him with all my guts."

Naranjo is scheduled to be sentenced in Superior Court on Oct. 22.

Times staff writer Carla Hall contributed to this story.

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