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Jury hears teen detail double slaying in investigators' video

Video of Giovanni Gallardo, accused of killing his girlfriend's mother and stepfather in Compton, is played on the first day of trial testimony.

May 21, 2013|By Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times

The 16-year-old boy was trying to explain what had happened to his girlfriend's missing mother and stepfather when a detective stopped him. Investigators knew the real story, the detective said.

"Oh damn," Giovanni Gallardo muttered, according to a video of his interview played in court on Tuesday.

For the next hour, the teen recounted how he strangled his girlfriend's mother, beat and stabbed her stepfather and then buried their bodies while planning a Halloween party at the Compton trailer where the killings had taken place.

His 15-year-old girlfriend was not to blame, he said, though he acknowledged in the interview that she took part in the killings. The story about her missing mother being in the hospital was her idea, Gallardo said.

"She wanted to be with me," he told Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives. "That's why we did this, 'cause we wanted to be with each other, together."

A prosecutor played the video interview for jurors during the first day of testimony in the murder trial of Gallardo, who is being tried as an adult.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Eric Siddall said the teen's own detailed account would prove how he plotted and carried out the killings of Gloria Villalta and Jose Lara in October 2011.

Lara was found handcuffed and buried in a shallow grave in Long Beach. Villalta's decomposing body was kept in the back of the Jeep the teens were driving for two days while they shopped for their Halloween party, Siddall said.

"It's almost unbelievable that someone could be so callous to two human beings, to murder them in their own home and to treat their bodies so poorly," Siddall told jurors during opening statements.

Gallardo's attorney, Deputy Alternate Public Defender Scott T. Johnson, told jurors during a brief opening statement that they would learn "about a terrible, tragic series of events" but that he was confident they would find his client not guilty after listening to the evidence.

"Keep an open mind," Johnson said.

Before the jurors were brought into court, Johnson confirmed to Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ricardo R. Ocampo that he was not declaring a doubt about his client's mental competence to stand trial but said a defense expert considered Gallardo, now 18, to be a "borderline" case.

Johnson asked the judge to give Gallardo additional time during the trial to confer with his lawyer if need be when witnesses were being questioned. The judge agreed.

Gallardo's girlfriend, Cynthia Alvarez, blamed Gallardo for the killings when she took the stand in her own murder trial this month. Alvarez, now 16, claimed she did not want her parents dead but did not try to stop the killings because she was afraid of her boyfriend, whom she described as abusive. She was convicted of murder in both deaths.

Gallardo's mother brought her son and his girlfriend to the Compton sheriff's station as authorities began to investigate reports that Lara, 51, and Villalta, 58, were missing. The detectives interviewed Alvarez first. By the time they got to Gallardo, they had learned from his girlfriend that her parents had been killed.

Gallardo, who told the investigators that he was in special education classes and could not read or write English, began by saying that Alvarez's mother had been hospitalized. Muttering, and often speaking in garbled sentences, the teenager said Lara had a gun and threatened him.

Christopher Bergner, then a homicide unit sergeant, interrupted.

"You guys practiced good," Bergner told him. "But now we got the real story, OK?"

Gallardo then offered an apparent confession. He said Lara had raped Alvarez. But the teen said what made him angry at the adults was that Alvarez's mother called the police on him and told her to break up with him. He said he was also mad that Alvarez's stepfather showed Gallardo's family disrespect.

"Jose always used to come to my house, threaten me.... I got revenge on him," Gallardo said.

Alvarez, he said, agreed at first with the idea of killing her parents but then said no. He said he told her he would take the blame for the killings if they were caught.

But Gallardo also said that Alvarez helped in the fatal assault of Lara, beating him with a baseball bat and handing Gallardo a knife, which he used to stab the victim. He said she never tried to stop him.

"Did you think that nobody was gonna notice that they were missing," sheriff's Det. Teri Bernstein asked him.

They hadn't thought about it, he said.

jack.leonard@latimes.com

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