Published Tuesday, July 24, 2012 | 7:13 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, July 24, 2012 | 9:48 p.m.
Sergio Castrejon Alvarez’s right arm bears the scars of a machete attack that killed his mother, wounded his sister and left him unable to earn money from landscaping or making tamales.
“When I go to ask for work, people look at my arm and they don’t want to give me a job,” he told the jury deciding the fate of his attacker, 33-year-old Jaime Garcia-Cruz. (The defendant originally was arrested under the alias Victor Cruz-Garcia.)
The testimony of Alvarez and his sister, Silvia Gonzales, on Monday kicked off a two-day penalty hearing for Garcia-Cruz in Clark County District Court. A jury on Tuesday sentenced Garcia-Cruz to life in prison without the possibility of parole, sparing him from the death penalty.
Last week, the same jury convicted Garcia-Cruz of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder for the December 2007 attacks.
Beatrice Alvarez, 46, died from chop wounds to the head suffered when Garcia-Cruz attacked her outside an apartment near Bonanza Road and Eastern Avenue. Enraged that she didn’t want him entering the apartment because he had been drinking, Garcia-Cruz forced his way in, grabbed his machete and went after the woman and her two children, according to an arrest report. Garcia-Cruz and his girlfriend at the time had been staying with Beatrice Alvarez and her son and daughter, then 27 and 12 years old, respectively.
Public defenders Tim O’Brien and Christy Craig asked the jury to consider the defendant’s personal history despite what they acknowledged to be gruesome crimes.
Garcia-Cruz’s family members — some testifying via video conference from El Salvador — said he suffered a head injury at birth and was fed a drink laced with alcohol because he could not breastfeed.
In addition, they said Garcia-Cruz grew up in El Salvador during the country’s civil war and was exposed to horrors such as seeing dead and mutilated bodies floating in a nearby river.
The defense also used witness testimony from clinical psychologist Dr. Ricardo Weinstein, who said tests determined Garcia-Cruz has mild mental retardation and frontal-lobe dysfunction — a condition that prevents him from problem-solving and controlling impulses.
Deputy District Attorney David Stanton, however, said another doctor who testified during the trial phase disagreed with Weinstein’s diagnosis of mental retardation.
Instead, Stanton urged the jury to consider Garcia-Cruz’s past criminal history, including entering the United States illegally and the sexual assault of a minor in Texas. After his arrest for the sexual assault, he posted bail and fled the country — only to return several years later. Authorities caught him, and Garcia-Cruz pleaded guilty to the sexual assault of a minor, which involved a girl he was dating who was younger than the legal age of consent.
On Tuesday, Garcia-Cruz expressed his remorse to the jury and begged them to forgive what he termed his “lack of sense” the day of the attacks.
“I beg that my life be a precious thing in your eyes, and look at the pain that my mother and my siblings carry,” he said. “Grant me my life — not because of me, but (because of) the people who love me.”
After more than two hours of deliberating, the jury found enough mitigating factors to forgo the death penalty.
O’Brien said he was “relieved and grateful” the jury opted for the defense’s recommendation of life without the possibility of parole.
Garcia-Cruz offered a similar sentiment, O’Brien said.
“He said thank you very much,” he said.