A teenage girl plotted the murder of her parents and assisted her boyfriend in the killings, giving him a hand signal when her mother was heading to bed and helping him ambush her stepfather, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Kristin Trutanich urged the Compton jury not to feel sympathy for the girl, who testified that she suffered years of abuse at the hands of the victims and watched helplessly as a controlling boyfriend carried out the October 2011 slayings in the family's mobile home.
Trutanich said Cynthia Alvarez, 16, was far from a meek, submissive teenager. The prosecutor reminded the panel that the teen admitted stealing thousands of dollars' worth of cash and jewelry from her mother before the slayings. Alvarez was 15 at the time of the killings but is being tried as an adult.
"She's a thief who runs away and wants to be with her boyfriend, and her parents were getting in the way," Trutanich said during closing arguments. "It's absolutely offensive — her conduct and the defense in this case."
During an emotional finale to the two-week trial, Alvarez's attorney told jurors that it was the prosecutor who was being offensive by falsely portraying her client as a "sociopathic, sophisticated, lying" teenager.
Witnesses described Alvarez as a quiet, sweet girl who loved her mother, Deputy Public Defender Carole Telfer said. Alvarez, she said, was sodomized by her stepfather, who molested her for about a decade. The girl's mother, the lawyer said, frequently beat her with a belt, but authorities and others did little to help.
"She is just as much a victim of this case as anybody else," Telfer told jurors.
After delivering her closing argument, with jurors out of the courtroom during a brief break, Telfer wept. Later, as Trutanich delivered a final rebuttal, the defense attorney wrapped her arm around her client's shoulders, holding her close.
Jurors have heard more than a week of sometimes grisly testimony. The bodies of Gloria Villalta, 58, and Jose Lara, 51, were found in shallow graves. Lara was handcuffed and his corpse covered with a blanket. Villalta's head was wrapped in duct tape and her body was bloated from decomposition. Her pedicured toes were sticking out from the ground, Trutanich told jurors.
Alvarez insisted that her boyfriend, Giovanni Gallardo, was responsible for the slayings and that she had little control over what happened. She told jurors earlier this week that Gallardo, then 16, had previously threatened her with a knife and a gun and that she feared he might hurt her if she sought help during the killings.
Alvarez testified that she and Gallardo buried her stepfather's body on the night of the killings. She said the ground of the vacant lot in Long Beach was too hard to make the grave large enough for her mother, so the teens kept Villalta's body in the back of her mother's Jeep Cherokee for several days. Alvarez testified that she and Gallardo drove the Jeep to stores to buy supplies for a Halloween party while her mother's decomposing body was in the back.
Trutanich pointed to notes Alvarez wrote to her boyfriend just before the slayings as powerful evidence that the girl played a key role in the deaths.
One said: "I am to scared. I cannot do it." Another ungrammatical note read: "What about if she going to her bed. Can you kill her." A third said, "you do it."
The girl testified she intended for the notes to tell Gallardo that she did not want to be involved in his plan. She said she was not encouraging him and did not want the couple dead but hoped he would carry out the killings out of her sight if he was going to do it.
Her attorney previously told jurors that Alvarez, who was in special-education classes, has a language-processing disorder and has trouble communicating.
Alvarez told jurors that she was outside her family's Compton mobile home on Atlantic Avenue when her mother was killed. After she returned to the home and saw that her mother had been killed, she said, she saw Gallardo wait behind the front door and attack Lara with a baseball bat when he arrived home.
Alvarez said she also struck her stepfather with the bat, but that she did so at the direction of Gallardo and hit Lara only in the lower part of his body. She admitted kicking away a knife that fell from Lara's pocket and handing Gallardo a kitchen knife, which he used to stab her stepfather.
Villalta was beaten and either strangled or smothered, while Lara was beaten and stabbed 11 times, Trutanich said.
"Neither of her parents knew the horrible fate that was coming to them," Trutanich told jurors. "It's absolutely chilling."
Gallardo, now 18, is also charged as an adult and is scheduled to go on trial next week.