From City News Service:
LOS ANGELES — A state appeals court panel Thursday upheld a 100-year- to-life prison sentence for a young woman convicted along with her boyfriend of the July 2000 stabbing murders of four members of her adoptive family as they slept in their Pico Rivera home.The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected Monica Diaz’s claims thatNorwalk Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio abused his discretion in imposing the term and that her August 2009 sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment.“Admittedly, defendant’s sentence is severe, she was young when she committed the crimes, she has no prior criminal record, and there was evidence to support a finding that she suffered enduring psychological effects of her difficult early childhood years,” Acting Presiding Justice Robert M. Mallano wrote on behalf of the panel.“But when her sentence is viewed in light of the number and gravity of her commitment offenses, it is not an extreme or grossly disproportionate sentence and does not violate the Eighth Amendment.”Diaz — who was 16 at the time of the attack — was convicted in February 2004 of first-degree murder for the slayings of her uncle, Richard Flores, 42, and cousins Richard, 17, Sylvia Jr., 13, and Matthew, 10, who were attacked in the early morning hours of July 21, 2000.Diaz’s high school sweetheart, Michael Naranjo, pleaded guilty to the murders in October 2003 and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.During her trial, Diaz testified that she and Naranjo agreed to stage a fake robbery at the home to draw her family closer because she believed her aunt and uncle — who took her in after her mother died — were having marital problems.Diaz acknowledged cutting duct tape for her then-17-year-old boyfriend so her family could be tied up. But she denied taking part in the murders.During her trial, the prosecution presented a March 1999 letter in which Diaz wrote to Naranjo that the “best job is to kill people professionally.” She testified that the missive was “just words.”Diaz was first sentenced in April 2004 to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but an appellate court panel reversed a special circumstance allegation of multiple murder, along with her conviction for the attempted murder of her aunt and adoptive mother, Sylvia Flores, who survived the attack.In its December 2005 ruling, the appellate court panel found the trial court “erroneously limited consideration of evidence that defendant thought her boyfriend would only frighten the people inside the house by pretending to rob them and did not know of his plan to kill.”Prosecutors opted not to re-try the attempted murder count or the multiple murder allegation. She was re-sentenced in April 2007 — that time to four consecutive 25-year-to-life terms. But a three-judge panel from the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that a lower court judge should have granted a continuance to allow Diaz’s attorney more time to prepare, requiring another sentencing hearing in 2009.At Diaz’s August 2009 sentencing, her aunt was among those calling for the harshest possible sentence.“I want her to get life — four life sentences … nothing less … I fear for this community if she were to come out,” Sylvia Flores told the judge.Calling it the “most horrific situation I’ve been involved in,” the judge noted that the family had opened their door to Diaz and her half-sister after their mother died and treated her like their own.The judge said at the August 2009 hearing that he believed there was “no other sentence that is appropriate other than four consecutive life sentences,” noting the victims were “massacred in their own home” and that the crimes should be “punished individually.”The judge then sentenced her to the identical 100-year-to-life term he had imposed in 2007.