Mother must stand trial in children’s deaths — (Ventura County Star), Mom sentenced to Death for slaying sons — (DailyNews.com)

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Ventura County Star

By Bruce McLean, Ventura County Star writer

Thursday March 23, 2000

Socorro Caro: Testimony at preliminary hearing describes failing marriage.

Xavier and Socorro “Cora” Caro’s crumbling marriage descended into a final, savage argument only hours before the mother allegedly shot three of her four boys to death and tried to kill herself, Cora Caro’s sobbing mother said in court Wednesday.

 “Cora said, ‘He doesn’t want us any more,'” Juanita Leon said during Caro’s preliminary hearing Wednesday. “She said, ‘He’s gone, mom. I don’t have any money now. I don’t know what I ‘m going to do.'”
A few hours later, after physician Xavier Caro had left his Santa Rosa Valley home to cool off at his Northridge office, he returned and found his wife shot in the head, and his three children dead in their beds.
He later told a detective he took his anger out on his bleeding wife, who lay on the floor in their bedroom.

“He said he had kicked her in the buttocks,” said Dan Thompson, a sheriff’s homicide detective at the time of the killings. “He said he kicked her after he found his children murdered.”

Thompson and Leon were among five witnesses at Caro’s preliminary hearing. After hearing their testimony, Judge Charles McGrath determined there was enough evidence to support charges that Caro murdered her three children — Joey, 11, Mikey, 8, and Christopher, 5. Their fourth child, 1-year-
old Gabriel, was not attacked.
The charges make Caro, 42, eligible for the death penalty, though prosecutors have not decided whether they will seek that punishment.   She is scheduled to appear for Superior Court arraignment April 25. She remains jailed without bail.
Caro, wearing a blue jail uniform, shackles on her ankles, her hair still shortened from brain surgery and a scar visible on the side of her head, wept numerous times during the hearing.  
The mention of her children’s names, their death certificates entered as evidence, descriptions of her boys’ fatal wounds, each brought anguished cries from the defendant.
According to testimony, the couple’s 13-year marriage began a serious decline in August.  Xavier Caro told Thompson that it was that month the doctor discovered he
was in “grave financial straits.”
“He told me Cora was spending too much money, including supporting her parents financially,” Thompson said, adding that she had her parents “on salary.”
The doctor took steps to rectify the situation. He halted payments to her parents. He took away her credit cards and checks and dismissed her as manager of his office, having her pick up her boxed belongings “like any other employee,” Leon said.
Xavier Caro also admitted to Thompson that he’d had a brief affair that same month and had begun discussing the possibility of separating from his wife.
As part of an attempt to save the marriage, he began seeing a counselor and had his wife start taking Prozac, Thompson said.

But he consulted a divorce attorney. She discovered notes from that meeting in her husband’s day planner and confronted her husband.
Xavier Caro told Thompson his wife feared she and the children would be left penniless and destitute. He explained to her if there was a divorce, he legally had to support his children, that she would get half of their assets.
“He indicated to me that she did not believe that,” Thompson said.  Thompson also interviewed the woman who took over Cora Caro’s office manager job when she was fired by her husband.

She reported that the wife called her in late August or early September and “told her she was depressed and she was looking at the gun and thinking about doing it,” Thompson said.
In the months that followed there were numerous arguments between the two, some of which descended into violence, witnesses testified. But who became violent became a point of contention.   Leon indicated Xavier Caro physically and verbally abused his wife and that she’d seen him hit her.
The day after the killings, he told Thompson that it was his wife who would turn violent.   “He said she had a very bad temper and had been physical with him in the
past and had thrown things at him and injured him in the past,” Thompson said.   Again, on Nov. 22, an argument that started when he disciplined their eldest child, Joey, turned physical.
According to Leon’s testimony and Xavier Caro’s statements to Thompson,  the following took place that night:  The family had planned to take off the next day for a Thanksgiving celebration at the couple’s vacation home near Modesto. Xavier Caro came home from work, and the family ate a light dinner. Both
Caros also had a margarita or two each.
During dinner, Joey apparently angered his father with a comment.  Later that night, Xavier Caro removed a television and video games from his son’s room as punishment.
She thought the punishment too harsh and an argument began. The argument moved from the punishment to the couple’s problems and escalated to shouting.
Leon, who was in her room in the house preparing to sleep, said she heard the husband yelling “at the top of his lungs.”  “He was cussing at Cora,” Leon said.
Leon ran upstairs toward the couple’s bedroom, where she saw Cora Caro on the floor, crying at his feet.
Leon said in court that Xavier Caro had his foot on his wife’s legs, but prosecutors reminded her of an earlier interview in which she said Cora Caro was wrapped around his legs, trying to prevent him from leaving.   The doctor ended up leaving the home and went to his office. Leon went to Joey’s room and found him frightened by his parents’ argument.
“He said, ‘Grandma, I ‘m so afraid,'” Leon said.
She checked on the other two boys, Michael and Christopher, and found them asleep.
Leon decided to leave — “I thought, ‘he’s coming back and I don’t want to be here'” — and went to Joey’s room to say goodbye.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you stay, grandma? I ‘m so afraid.'”   When she left, Leon said, her daughter was crying but appeared OK. But Cora Caro said her husband no longer wanted her or the children around anymore.
Xavier Caro told Thompson he got one phone call from his wife while at his office.

“She was incoherent, dreadful, tearful, pleading with him to come home,” Thompson said.
He said the conversation ended with what he took to be a rare compliment from his wife.
He said Cora told him, “You always know what to do, you know what’s right.”
When he returned home about 11:30, he found his wife on the floor of their bedroom. He called 911, unaware that his wife had shot herself, but discovered her head wound and a gun underneath her while talking with the dispatcher.
Wondering about his children, he dropped the phone and went to check on them.
Thompson said that on the 911 tape there is silence followed by a distant “agonizing, guttural, gut-wrenching scream” as he discovered his children.   He returned to the phone and told the dispatcher what he’d found.
“His babies were dead,” Thompson said.

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Mom sentenced for slaying sons

Saturday, April 6, 2002

By Sabrina Decker,  Staff Writer, Daily News

VENTURA — The wife of a respected San Fernando Valley doctor was sentenced to death on Friday for the cold-blooded murders of three of the couple’s young sons in their Santa Rosa Valley mansion.In affirming a jury’s recommendation that Socorro “Cora” Caro be executed, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Donald Coleman said the fatal shootings had been “willful, premeditated and committed with malice aforethought.”

“The brutal murder of these three children occurred in the sanctity of their homes … (they had become) sacrificial symbolic pawns of a failed marital relationship,” he said.

Calling the slayings the “mass murder of innocent children,” the judge said, “The weight of this factor is quite simply enormous.”

Prosecutors said Caro was seeking revenge against her husband for their failing marriage when she shot Xavier Jr., 11, Michael, 8, and Christopher, 5, in the head at point-blank range Nov. 22, 1999. A fourth son, 13-month-old Gabriel, was unharmed, and now resides with his father.

Caro also tried to kill herself, but survived a gunshot wound to the head. She says the injury caused brain damage that prevents her from remembering what happened the night of the shootings.

Outside court, Deputy District Attorney Cheryl Temple said the sentence was appropriate.

“She murdered three kids — an 11-year-old, an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old. It was murder of the most callous type by a selfish and vindictive person,” Temple said.

Flanked by her attorneys and dressed in jail blues, Caro sat stoically during the sentencing.

Deputy Public Defender Nicholas Beeson supported her as she was later led from the courtroom — pale, gaunt and visibly shaken.

Caro will be transferred to the prison in San Quentin, while her death sentence is automatically appealed.

Earlier in the hearing, Caro broke down while walking past her husband, Dr. Xavier Caro, who was seated in the courtroom gallery.

“How could you do this to us! How could you do this to us!” she shouted at Caro, a prominent rheumatologist practicing in Northridge. “Look at him! He’s smirking at me! He’s smirking!”

The defense argued during Caro’s four-month trial that Xavier Caro actually killed his sons, then framed his wife for the crime.

Xavier Caro left the courthouse without speaking to reporters, but his spokesman, Howard Bragman, later said the day had been grueling.

“I’m glad to have the day behind me, is what he actually said,” Bragman said. “It was a very tough day.”

Bragman also read a prepared statement that he and Caro had drafted earlier.

“There can be no joy in this decision, only some measure of resolution,” the statement said. “There are only two reasons I have been able to endure this unimaginable nightmare: the first is the remarkable support that I have been shown by my family, my friends and my staff and patients. The second is my son Gabriel.”

Cora Caro’s relatives and supporters were in the courtroom for the sentencing. They said they still believe she is innocent.

“We love Cora, and we’re going to be backing her all the way,” said Irene Zavala, a member of the jail ministry who has known Caro for years. “I just visited her last week and she had more faith than I have.”

Earlier Friday, Coleman had ruled against a motion for a new trial filed by Deputy Public Defender Jean Farley, who said jurors had talked about the case before deliberations began.

“The real evil that’s to be guarded against is whether or not there was any improper influence or bias on the part of the jurors,” Farley said.

But Coleman said allegations of improper discussions could not be proved and he doubted they would have influenced members of the 10-woman, two-man jury who found Caro guilty and recommended the death penalty.

“We had a very intelligent jury in this case, and I am satisfied that they were not misled,” he said.