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Jury Finds Woman Guilty of 4 Murders

Monica Diaz, now 20, was 16 when she and her boyfriend killed her uncle and three cousins.

February 04, 2004|Jose Cardenas | Times Staff Writer

Monica Diaz, who once wrote her teenage lover that she wanted them to be like the serial killers in the movie "Natural Born Killers," was convicted Tuesday of helping him murder her uncle and three of her cousins.

Diaz, 20, who was 16 at the time of the crimes, looked down and showed no emotion as the jury's verdict was read.

She had testified on her own behalf, stating that her lover, Michael Naranjo, was the mastermind of the crime -- an account that he had corroborated after admitting his own guilt. But the jurors were not impressed.

"It was a very strong case against her," said juror James Frank. "I didn't see too much of a defense, to be honest with you. And even if you took her defense, we still would have found her guilty."

Jurors cited fingerprints, as well as Diaz's admission that she agreed to participate in a staged burglary that ended in a quadruple murder, as reasons to convict her.

"In my heart I always knew she was guilty but I fought it, first so I can heal. But now it's a realization: I have to accept what she did," said Sylvia Flores, who survived the attacks in her Pico Rivera home.

Killed in the July 2000 attacks were her husband Richard Flores, 42; and her children, Richard Jr., 17; Sylvia, 13; and Matthew, 10.

Diaz and her half sister, Laura Reta, had lived with the Flores family since their mother died when Diaz was 3.

During the trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin McCormick contended that Diaz and Naranjo had been obsessed with killing people. McCormick showed jurors letters in which the two had discussed committing murders. In one, Diaz had compared herself and Naranjo to the lead characters in "Natural Born Killers," the motion picture that was loosely based on the true story of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate, a young couple who in 1958 embarked on a murder spree.

"These aren't words. They are evidence," McCormick told jurors in closing arguments. "They are insight into what is going on in this woman's brain."

Jurors said the letters were key to the verdict.

"I think the letters definitely established her thought pattern," Frank said. "It's not a far leap from there when you take the physical evidence and her admission, and this is sick, that she gave him a kiss for good luck at the front porch. My personal theory is they were trying to emulate the natural born killer movie. That night they were trying to kill the family, the same as the movie."

McCormick contended that on the night of the murders, Diaz had opened the door so that Naranjo could enter. He told jurors that Diaz had cut the duct tape that was meant to cover the victims' mouths.

McCormick contended that Naranjo had worked his way methodically through the bedrooms, stabbing the victims in their lungs and throats so that they could not scream. Naranjo had fled the house abruptly when Sylvia Flores, wounded but still alive, kicked him as he was stabbing her husband, McCormick said.

The prosecution suggested that Diaz had remained in the bathroom, where she washed three of the knives that Naranjo had used.

McCormick said the crime was the worst that he had seen in 18 years of prosecuting murder cases.

"How do you get justice for what happened to this family?" he asked. "They are narcissistic sociopaths."

Defense attorneys contended that Diaz's letters were fantasies. They suggested that she had been an impressionable young woman under the influence of Naranjo, her first love.

A psychiatrist testified that Diaz had a personality disorder that caused her an intense fear of abandonment. That fear, according to defense attorneys, had led her to plan with Naranjo a staged burglary that she hoped would keep her aunt and uncle from separating.

"She calls Richard 'Dad' and Sylvia 'Mom,' " defense attorney Louis Sepe said during closing arguments. "This was a family she clung to after her troubled childhood."

Sepe claimed that Naranjo had never revealed to Diaz that he intended to kill her family.

Diaz's sister, Laura Reta, said she believed that Naranjo committed the murders without her sister's consent.

"I hate him because I know my sister, and I know she couldn't do it," said Reta, 22. "She didn't do all of it. She's a good person.

"She's my flesh and blood and I don't have her anymore," Reta said of Diaz. "I want to be able to hug her. That's what hurts me more."

Sepe said Diaz was devastated by the verdicts. "She's now been labeled the killer of her family, which isn't the case," he said.

Diaz is scheduled to be sentenced March 8. She is facing the same sentence that Naranjo is serving: five life terms.

Though she and Naranjo both were convicted of the special circumstance of multiple murder, they did not face the death penalty because they were juveniles when they committed the crimes.

Sepe said the defense would file a motion for a new trial based on what he called several errors made by Judge John A. Torribio, including the judge's exclusion of Reta as a witness for her sister.

"I'm confident that it will be reversed on appeal," Sepe said.

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