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Killer of 4 Gets 5 Life Sentences

Michael Naranjo will not be eligible for parole in the 2000 stabbing of his then-girlfriend's family members as they slept.

October 23, 2003|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

A 20-year old man who confessed to a stabbing rampage that left four members of a Pico Rivera family dead was sentenced Wednesday to five life terms for crimes the judge termed "beyond human perception."

Michael Naranjo, his face pale, his hair neatly short and nearly black, sat without expression as Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio imposed the harshest sentences possible. Naranjo was never eligible for the death penalty.

As the judge read the name of the first victim, a shrill cry of anguish pierced the quiet Norwalk courtroom, where two dozen friends and relatives of the victims sat, many wiping at reddened eyes and sniffling through their tears.

"I hope you rot, Michael," Sophia Reta, the aunt of three of the victims, called out to Naranjo as he was led away in chains after sentencing.

In the early morning of July 21, 2000, Naranjo stole into the Pico Rivera home of Sylvia and Richard Flores -- the aunt and uncle of his then-girlfriend, Monica Diaz -- and, moving from bedroom to bedroom, stabbed to death three of their children: Richard Jr., 17, Sylvia, 13, and Matthew, 10. He also stabbed to death family patriarch Richard Flores, 42. His wife, Sylvia, was seriously wounded but survived.

Untouched that night were their daughter Esperanza, their other niece, Diaz's half-sister Laura Reta, and Diaz herself.

The murders -- among the most brutal that detectives and prosecutors involved in the case said they had ever seen -- devastated the community where the outgoing family members were well-known.

Within a week, both Naranjo and Diaz were arrested in the killings. Diaz, 19, who is expected to go to trial in December, faces the same charges.

Naranjo's guilty plea and sentence -- which ensures that he will never be released from prison -- did little to stem the agony of surviving Flores family members, who have waited more than three years for a trial.

In testimony before the judge imposed sentence, family members spoke of the grief of losing loved ones and the torture of not knowing why.

"I've thought forever about what to say," said Sylvia Flores, 41, her eyes teary but her voice strong, in the courtroom.

The scars from the knife Naranjo used to attack her are still faintly visible on her chin and her chest. "I welcomed him into our lives as my [niece's] boyfriend. We fed him, we took him to the movies," she said. "You have no idea the pain my family is going through. Losing one person is bad -- but four?" Flores said, her wedding and engagement rings dangling from a gold chain around her neck.

"Three years to say you're guilty and still no answers?" she asked as Naranjo sat next to his attorney, looking straight ahead, his face impassive.

"I have nothing bad to say about Michael as he sits there without looking at us, with no emotion," said Sylvia Flores' daughter Esperanza, 22. "I can't imagine he sits there without crying. I forgive you, Michael ... If you saw what we'd been through in the last three years, maybe then you'd be crying."

The judge said he was impressed by the family members' willingness to forgive Naranjo. "I don't know if I would have that in my heart," Torribio said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin McCormick introduced into evidence a four-page handwritten confession by Naranjo. "The soullessness he demonstrated by his attitude and the words of his confession -- it's almost subhuman," McCormick said.

But Naranjo's attorney, Public Defender Charles Cervantes, defended in court his client's decision to plead guilty and forgo a trial as an attempt "to spare any further psychic damage and pain" to the Flores family. "He recognizes that he cannot go back and undo the horrible things that day," Cervantes said.

A probation report filed with the court called Naranjo's actions that night "cold-blooded" and said that he was unremorseful. "One witness stated that the defendant informed her that when it was over, he went home, took a shower and laid down on his bed," according to the report.

Cervantes released the first paragraph of the confession, which McCormick alluded to and which Naranjo wrote in December 2000, as evidence.

"Firstly, an apology should be issued to the many persons involved with the entire matter," Naranjo wrote. "However, being the individual I have come to be, I cannot do so eloquently enough to persuade even myself to believe my words. I do, nevertheless, feel great regret for the disaster which occurred by my hands...."

Cervantes said the letter was intended as a suicide note, although Naranjo never tried to kill himself.

"This was clearly a goodbye note, being honest, telling it like it was," Cervantes said.

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