(Update: Details of convictions; courtroom scene)
After nearly a month of often emotional testimony, it took a Deschutes County jury less than a day to find a Redmond couple guilty of murder by abuse and other charges Friday in the 2016 starvation death of their 5-year-old daughter, Maliyha Hope Garcia.
Estevan Garcia, 35, and Sacora Horn-Garcia, 33, were charged with murder by abuse and two counts of criminal mistreatment in the girl’s death, just a few days before Christmas. She weighed just 24 pounds at the time, and officials ruled her death was caused by starvation.
In a packed courtroom Friday afternoon, the husband and wife both were convicted unanimously by jurors of two counts of murder by abuse and two counts each of first-degree criminal mistreatment, one count for withholding food from the girl and the other for withholding medical care.
Garcia looked straight ahead without emotion as the verdicts were read, while Horn-Garcia was crying and dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.
Deschutes County Circuit Judge Beth Bagley set sentencing of the pair for Monday, Nov. 18.
The jury, which heard closing arguments on Thursday, had been given the option of convicting the couple of a lesser charge, first- or second-degree manslaughter.
The little girl had been adopted by Garcia and his then-girlfriend shortly after her birth and tested positive for methamphetamine. Garcia later met and married Horn-Garcia at the end of 2014; she had three older daughters from a previous marriage.
Both defendants had taken the witness stand and testified of the varied troubles in their marriage, including Horn-Garcia’s drug and alcohol issues and mental breakdowns. The stepmother spoke of a battle of wills with the girl to get her to “use her words” and to stop sneaking out of her room for food at night.
Horn-Garcia said she regretted withholding food but had believed she was suffering from a medical condition after a fall, not from lack of nourishment. But she acknowledged putting an alarm on the girl’s bedroom door, for example, to know if she tried to sneak out to eat. And she admitted she felt her husband was too lenient with the child, letting her eat junk food or whatever she wanted.
Both defendants’ attorneys had requested the jury consider the lesser, second-degree manslaughter charge, arguing that they loved their daughter and made mistakes but did not systematically starve her.
Photos of the girl as she grew thinner and thousands of text messages between the couple, including ones debating whether to take Maliyha to the doctor, were key factors in the case. Even some expert witnesses were moved to tears as they spoke of her condition the day medics tried to revive Maliyha at her home and she died at St. Charles Redmond, four days before Christmas of 2016.
Even in the girl’s final days, Horn-Garcia said she thought it was an illness that was causing issues, noting, “Kids get sick.” But she testified earlier that she preferred using oils, rather than medicine.
The stepmother acknowledged she was harder on Maliyha than her biological daughters, noting she’d made the then-3-year-old wash the wall for more than an hour, but said she had harsher punishments because she acted up more, and that she still loved her.