Penalty Upheld For Killings of Five People, Including Two Children
In a decision announced Thursday, the California Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and death sentence of Richard Valdez for the 1995 murders of four members of an El Monte family and a fifth person in the house. Evidence presented at trial indicated that Valdez, a member of a street gang, killed Anthony Moreno because Moreno had quit the Mexican Mafia, an offense that under the gang’s rules is punishable by death.
At the time of the murders Moreno was living with his sister Maria and her children. A guest at the residence at that time, Gustavo Aguirre, was also marked for death by the gang. Along with Moreno, four others in the apartment were shot to death in the early afternoon including five-year-old Laura Moreno and six-month-old Ambrose Padilla. One child escaped to a neighbor’s house, covered in blood. Evidence introduced at trial included the testimony of 16 witnesses. A three- or four-year-old girl survived by hiding in the house.
“The cold blooded murders of five people, including two children, in order to enforce the rules of a criminal gang demonstrates why Californians should not vote to abolish the death penalty this November, but should instead demand that the state start enforcing it,” said Criminal Justice Legal Foundation President Michael Rushford.
“Does anyone really believe that life in prison is the appropriate sentence for this butcher?” Rushford asked.
Opponents of the death penalty, led by the American Civil Liberties Union have qualified Proposition 34 for California’s November general election ballot. That measure would abolish the death penalty and apply retroactively to every murderer currently awaiting execution on California’s death row.
Executions in California have been delayed since 2005 by lawsuits challenging the state’s three-drug lethal injection process, even though the United States Supreme Court upheld Kentucky’s virtually identical process in its 2008 Baze v. Rees decision. Many other states resumed executions shortly after the decision, while others have switched to a simpler one-drug protocol. In July, courts in Los Angeles and San Mateo heard argument by district attorneys which suggest that California officials have been sitting on their hands and letting the lawsuits drag through the courts, while other states took the steps necessary to resume executions.
The facts of the conviction cited by today’s Supreme Court decision in People v. Valdez are as follows. In the early afternoon of April 22, 1995, Valdez, accompanied by fellow gang members Luis “Pelon” Maciel and Jimmy “Character” Palma, approached the apartment of former Mexican Mafia member Anthony “Dido” Moreno’s sister Maria. After Maria’s six- or seven-year-old son ran to a neighbor’s house, screaming and covered in blood, the neighbor called the police.
Officers found Anthony Moreno, 42, lying in a pool of his own blood just outside the door of the apartment, killed by a single gunshot to the head. The gun had been pressed to his head just near his right ear, then exited out the left side of his skull.
Gustavo “Tito” Aguirre, 36, tried to hide when Valdez shot Moreno. He was found lying between a bed and wall, killed by a single gunshot to the top of the head. He had also sustained a non-fatal gunshot wound through his left shoulder.
Maria Moreno, 38, was found inside the apartment in a pool of blood. She was killed by a single gunshot fired from a few inches away which become lodged in her brain. She had also sustained a non-fatal gunshot wound to the right buttock.
Beside Maria, laying face-down in a pool of blood, was her five-year-old daughter Laura Moreno, who weighed only 47 pounds. Laura was killed by a single gunshot that entered her back, punctured her lung, and exited through her chest. She was believed to be either seated, lying down, or slightly hunched over when her life was taken.
The youngest victim, 17-pound, 6-month-old Ambrose Padilla, was found lying beside his mother and sister in a pool of blood. He was murdered by a single gunshot wound through his right eye, which traveled through his mouth, the base of his brain, to his spinal cord, and finally out the back of his neck. There was a hole in the pillow underneath him, making it likely he was lying on his back when shot.