No intent to kill, Raul Sarinana's attorney argues — (The Press-Enterprise)

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The Press-Enterprise

Thursday, March 19, 2009

By ALICIA ROBINSON

Raul Ricardo Sarinana’s killing of his 11-year-old nephew should be considered second-degree murder because he did not intend to kill, his defense attorney told a jury Thursday.
Attorneys made closing arguments in the murder trial of Sarinana, 42, who is charged with a torture enhancement in the death of Ricky Morales. The boy died in a closet at his uncle’s Corona home on Christmas Day 2005 after Sarinana kicked him for not cleaning a bathroom fast enough. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
The defendant’s wife, Cathy Lynn Sarinana, also is charged with murder and was included in most of the trial, but she has a separate attorney and jury.
Prosecutors also believe the couple killed Ricky’s brother, Conrad, 13, several months earlier when the family lived in rural Washington. Conrad’s body was found in the carport at the Corona home. Washington officials have said they plan to prosecute the couple.
In 24 days of an emotional and sometimes graphic trial in Riverside County Superior Court, jurors heard that Ricky and Conrad were sent to live with the Sarinanas because other family members couldn’t care for them.
In his closing arguments, Victor Marshall, one of Raul Sarinana’s two attorneys, said the boys had a rocky relationship with their mother, and their aunt and uncle at first provided them a happy home.
Marshall described Raul Sarinana as someone who had been abused when he was young and had “an almost childlike mentality.” He pointed to testimony that Raul had been prescribed Effexor, a drug that treats depression and anxiety, and that he had trouble controlling his anger.
The family — which included the Sarinanas’ two young children — was struggling financially, and Raul did everything he could for his wife, Marshall said.
In a journal entry that was shown in court, Conrad wrote about other family members being punished when Cathy Sarinana had a bad day. Marshall suggested Cathy Sarinana was the one in control of the family, the “puppeteer” who pulled her husband’s strings.
Marshall said several witnesses, including a Child Protective Services worker who met the family in Washington, saw no signs of abuse on the boys other than injuries from normal accidents or schoolyard fights.
The day after Ricky died, Raul Sarinana called police to say he had hurt and possibly killed the boy while trying to discipline him. Marshall reminded the jury how Raul Sarinana, in a recorded police interview that was shown in court, called his nephew “a good kid” and began to cry.
The beating was severe and unjustified, but “Raul never intended to kill his nephew. That’s why he cried,” Marshall said. “He’s sorry. He did not expect this to happen.”
Deputy District Attorney John Aki summed up his rebuttal in one incredulous, rhetorical word: “Really?”
In his initial closing remarks, Aki again showed photos of injuries to Ricky’s body. He reminded jurors of a pathologist’s testimony that some of the bruises, abrasions, and wounds that looked like cigarette burns and marks made with an electrical cord occurred days or even weeks before the boy’s death.
“When he was kicking that little boy and burning that little boy and beating that little boy, that was for discipline?” Aki said. “That is the definition of sadistic.”
After the Christmas Day beating, when Raul Sarinana realized the boy could die, Aki said, he chose not to call for help but instead closed the closet door and sat down to a holiday meal.
Aki said the Sarinanas had spun a web of deceit that Raul hoped would culminate in people believing Ricky’s death was an accident. Even under police questioning Raul Sarinana never mentioned Conrad, whom he had already killed, until he wanted to make a deal with prosecutors to help Cathy, Aki said.
Before jurors went into deliberations Thursday afternoon, Aki left them with a final image. A picture of Ricky and Conrad playing by a pool was shown, superimposed with a quote from Raul’s final police interview: “These kids came along and ruined my life.”
If the jury returns a verdict today, the judge likely won’t make it public until next week to avoid influencing Cathy Sarinana’s jury, which has not begun deliberations.