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The Charlotte Observer
GARY L. WRIGHT, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nov 15, 2007
Miranda accused of shooting son, daughter, then burning house
Gilberto Miranda Cuellar, accused of killing his two young children last year, has agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and spend the rest of his life in prison rather than face a possible death sentence.
Defense attorney Joe VonKallist told the Observer that Miranda will plead guilty today to the slayings of his 5-year-old son, John, and his 8-year-old daughter, Sara.
“Mr. Miranda has agreed to accept two consecutive life sentences,” VonKallist said.
The guilty pleas mean Miranda, 38, would avoid a capital murder trial and a possible death sentence.
Mecklenburg Assistant District Attorney Glenn Cole would not talk about the plea negotiations and whether prosecutors had offered Miranda a deal. Cole, however, said Miranda is scheduled to enter his pleas in court today.
VonKallist said Miranda had been suffering from depression and had not been taking his medication in the days leading up to the killings.
“Mr. Miranda’s hospital records show that a psychotic episode took place at the time of the crimes,” the defense lawyer said.
Miranda is accused of shooting his two children in March 2006 while they were tucked in bed and then setting their northeast Charlotte home on fire.
John and Sara Miranda were both shot in the head, according to court documents. The bodies of the two Highland Renaissance Academy students were found in pajamas amid the burned remains of their Frew Road home. A lighter was found next to them, according to documents.
The house smelled of gasoline, and a 9mm Beretta handgun was found in the kitchen and shell casings on the kitchen floor, records show.
Olga Miranda told reporters that her estranged husband called her three times on the night of her children’s killings. In one of the calls, she said, he told her she was “useless” and “wasn’t any good.” In the last call, she said, he left a message: “I hope you have a lot of friends so they can console you.”
Mecklenburg prosecutors, had they sought the death penalty against Miranda, would likely have come under criticism for treating the Latino landscaper from Mexico more harshly than they did David Crespi, a white bank executive who stabbed his twin daughters to death in January 2006.
Crespi, a senior vice president at Wachovia, pleaded guilty in July 2006 to two counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He cut a deal with prosecutors to avoid a capital murder trial and a possible death sentence.
Crespi killed his daughters, Samantha and Tessara, while playing a game of hide-and-seek with them. Tessara was stabbed 14 times, Samantha 18 times.
In his confession, Crespi, 46, told homicide detectives that he had suffered bouts of depression over the years that had triggered thoughts of killing his children, wife and parents, and even running down strangers with his car.
VonKallist told the Observer that Miranda has great remorse for his crimes.
“He’s been suicidal,” the defense lawyer said. “And he’s been on suicide watch.”
Miranda was found on the side of a nearby road hours after the slayings with cuts and burns, according to police reports. VonKallist said Miranda had cut his arms during the crimes and was taken to Carolinas Medical Center because he’d lost a lot of blood.
“A doctor at the hospital diagnosed him as psychotic,” VonKallist said.
A judge later ordered Miranda moved to the hospital at Central Prison in Raleigh after Mecklenburg jail officials said the murder suspect was suicidal and psychotic. A judge also sent Crespi to the state prison hospital in Raleigh after concluding the murder suspect was suicidal.