A man was convicted Monday of killing his father, stepmother and two half-brothers in their Hyde Park home in 1999, when he was a teenager, and trying to make the shootings look like a murder-suicide.
Jurors deliberated four days before finding Saulo Cesar Alvarado, 35, guilty of four counts of first-degree murder, plus two counts of child molestation involving a then-underage family member. The panel also found true special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and lying in wait.
Alvarado is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole, with sentencing set for May 1. He was ineligible for the death penalty because he was 16 at the time of the killings of Rudolfo Alvarado, 51, Eva Veronica, 36, and their sons Renzo, 16, and Victor, 5.
Each of the victims was shot in the head. Alvarado planted a gun on his older half-brother to make the shootings look like a murder-suicide, according to investigators. Deputy District Attorney Victor Avila, who prosecuted the case, said the verdict represented justice for the remaining family members.
"Thanks to the courage of A. Alvarado and the detectives, who did excellent work on this case, the Alvarado family received some sense of justice today by this jury," Avila said outside the courtroom, referencing the sister of the victims, who came forward as a witness 14 years after the killings. The prosecutor said the crime was "one of the most brutal cases I've dealt with."
In his closing argument, Avila told jurors: "Behind the doors of Apartment 204, a horrific crime occurred. An entire family was massacred on this day. Why were they killed? Because this defendant did not feel love and ... killed the source of his pain -- the people that did not love him. A 5-year- old lost his life -- he didn't even get to have a life. That's who the defendant is -- he put a bullet in a 5-year-old."
Defense attorney Robert Cortes cast doubt on the reliability of two of the prosecution's key witnesses, including the sister. He pointed to a detailed statement she made to detectives that she later said she didn't remember and asked the jurors to consider the notion of a "false memory."
The defense also urged the jury to listen carefully to the 911 call made by Saulo Alvarado, saying the defendant deserved an Oscar if he was making up the story he told.
In his rebuttal, Avila recalled evidence that there was no gunshot residue on the 16-year-old's hand and that the biomechanics and autopsy evidence were "inconsistent" with a murder-suicide.
"It was staged. The defendant planted that gun," the prosecutor said.
Alvarado was extradited from Guatemala in 2015 to face charges. He had been deported after a 2003 rape conviction.
Alvarado's attorney asked that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy make a request for the county jail to treat Alvardo as a "keep away" inmate because of his child molestation convictions. The ultimate determination will be up to jail officials.
According to news reports at the time of the murders, police initially believed Renzo was the killer. His parents had moved him from one school to another and worried about who he and his older brother were hanging out with.
The defendant told authorities that he and Renzo's 10-year-old sister found the bodies after returning home after three hours away. Investigators said all four burners on a gas stove were open and a candle was on the floor next to Renzo's body. The flame apparently went out before igniting the gas fumes.
Those who knew the boy didn't believe it.
"We keep telling ourselves, 'It can't be Renzo,'" a woman who hired the boy to work at her Chinese restaurant told the Los Angeles Times after the killings.
"He wasn't an aimless, violent person," Renzo's cousin told the newspaper. "You have to think about the area where he lives and how hard things are around here. But he wasn't like that."