Can seek parole after 25 years; judge tells stepmother, 'You are a murderer'
(Update: Adding uncle's comments after sentencing)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A Redmond couple was sentenced Monday to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years before parole in the December 2016 starvation death of their 5-year-old daughter, Maliyha Hope Garcia.
Deschutes County Circuit Judge Beth Bagley imposed the sentence upon Estevan Garcia, 35, and Sacora Horn-Garcia, during an emotional sentencing hearing for the pair, convicted by a jury last month of murder by abuse and two counts of criminal mistreatment in their adopted daughter’s death, just a few days before Christmas 2016. She weighed just 24 pounds then, and officials ruled her death was caused by starvation.
After several weeks of often emotional testimony, the jury unanimously convicted both defendants of two counts of murder by abuse and two counts each of first-degree criminal; mistreatment, one count of withholding food from the girl and the other for withholding medical care.
Both 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.
As Monday's sentencing hearing began, Deputy District Attorney Kandy Gies requested the sentence imposed by Bagley, saying the little girl was a “vulnerable victim” from whom food was repeatedly withheld, as well as medication, because the couple “didn’t want to get in trouble.”
All five of Maliyha’s sisters spoke at the sentencing, as well as other family members, including Estevan Garcia’s brother and Maliyha’s uncle, Carlos Garcia. All were in tears, and some were unable to read the statements.
“I think the only way I fell asleep at night was from crying so much,” the girl’s uncle said. “They were the ones that you needed to be protected from. Why didn’t I fight more.”
Addressing Horn-Garcia, he said, “You will be forgotten, and (Maliyha) will never be forgotten. All Maliyha wanted was love and to be loved, but you never gave her that.”
Speaking to his brother, Carlos Garcia said, “It was your job to protect Maliyha, and you failed her. When I look at you, I don’t even see my brother any more. You turned into a person I never want to be.”
Estevan Garcia told the courtroom they won’t get to see Maliyha turn 8 on Wednesday.
We saw through your tears. Your sorrow today is for yourself. You’re not sorry about what you did to Maliyah.-Deschutes County Circuit Judge Beth Bagley
“I know she’s in heaven,” he said. “To my nieces, don’t feel any guilt — you guys did everything you could. I apologize to Sacora. I apologize to my community. I apologize to my friends. I apologize to my family. I pray for comfort for each and every one of you.”
When Horn-Garcia’s turn to speak came, she said, “I want to sincerely apologize to both our families. Hearts have been shattered and many tears cried.”
“To Maliyha, my beautiful angel, I’m so sorry. I will forever be sorry,” she said. “I am not a bad person, and I did not ever intentionally hurt Maliyha, or any my children. I took care of her, and gave her medicine when she was sick. I did not know Maliyha was dying.”
“My biggest mistake was not realizing how sick Maliyha really was,” she said. “I am not a murderer. I made a terrible mistake and judgment. I did not kill Maliyha, and I don’t deserve to spend the rest of my life in person.”
Bagley first addressed Estevan Garcia, noting he was “a good father to Maliyha” before her relationship with Sacora.
“I wonder how betrayed she felt when you let her down,” the judge said. “What do you think happens when you child isn’t properly fed and is confined?”
As for Sacora Horn-Garcia, Bagley didn’t buy a word of what she said.
“We saw through your tears,” the judge said. “Your sorrow today is for yourself. You’re not sorry about what you did to Maliyah.
“You can stand here and say you’re a good mother. A good mother does not do anything you did to Maliyha. You murdered her, and you are a murderer. Good people don’t do what you did. Your behavior was monstrous," Bagley told the woman.
“One thing I keep thinking about, the picture of Maliyha reaching for her food, because she was starving. You were starving her. And you took the photo to mock her.
“You have not admitted to your mistakes. Killing a child the way you did was a deliberate choice, over a period of time. I will never understand how this happened,” Bagley said, before imposing the prison terms.
Carlos Garcia shared his reaction to the sentence on the courthouse steps afterward. It clearly did little to ease the pain.
“After three years, there's a little relief for our family,” he said. “It's not any better. We are still hurting. “
“Maliyha was one of the most loving little girls. She didn't care who you were. She would give you a hug and play with you. She was just a little girl who was born into hell and was trying to have a better life. She was everything."