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Teen charged with double murder was abuse victim, defense says

April 30, 2013|By Jack Leonard

A teenage girl charged with murdering her mother and stepfather suffered years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the couple, a defense attorney told a Compton jury on Tuesday.

Cynthia Alvarez, then 15, took no part in the October 2011 killings other than to strike her stepfather on the legs with a baseball bat at the insistence of her boyfriend, who actually carried out the attacks, Los Angeles County Deputy Public Defender Carole Telfer said in court.

Telfer said her client was molested as a young girl and later raped by her stepfather, Jose Lara. On one occasion, the girl's mother, Gloria Villalta, alerted Lara when she learned that law enforcement planned to arrest him for sexually assaulting Alvarez after the girl reported being sodomized in 2008, Telfer said.

The attorney suggested that the girl's mother encouraged Alvarez to recant her allegation and allowed Lara to return home.

Alvarez's mother forced her daughter to maintain the house, cook and give her insulin, Telfer said. Villalta berated Alvarez and beat the girl with a studded belt or anything else she could find for such trivial offenses as squealing when she saw a mouse or not cooking properly, the attorney said.

"Mrs. Villalta essentially kept Cynthia as a slave for her personal use," Telfer told jurors.

Alvarez tried unsuccessfully to get help and at other times attempted suicide, the attorney said. The girl also tried to run away and on one occasion was tied up with electrical cords by her mother and stepfather, Telfer said.

About a year before the killings, Alvarez met her boyfriend, Giovanni Gallardo, at Dominguez High School. Gallardo was domineering and ultimately abusive to Alvarez, who was shy and suffered from a language processing disorder, Telfer said.

Villalta's body was discovered by a jogger on Oct. 15, 2011, in a vacant lot in Norwalk. The 58-year-old victim's legs were tied, her hands bound behind her back and her head covered with a cloth and wrapped in duct tape, a homicide detective told jurors.

The body of Lara, 51, was found in a lot near Jordan High School in Long Beach.

Alvarez, now 16, and Gallardo, now 17, are charged as adults and face sentences of life in prison if convicted of murder. Gallardo is expected to face trial in the next few weeks.

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jack.leonard@latimes.com

Twitter: @jackfleonard

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