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Killer’s lawyers wrap up death-penalty phase

Jury to consider Rodriguez’s fate Monday after instructions

Posted: July 23, 2010 10:15 p.m.
Updated: July 24, 2010 4:55 a.m.

SAN FERNANDO — Attorneys in the Antonio Rodriguez trial delivered eloquent arguments Friday for and against the death penalty for the man who beat a 5-year-old girl to death in a Castaic park bathroom in 2004.

The jury in that convicted Rodriguez will receive instructions Monday from San Fernando Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen, then begin deliberations in the penalty phase of the trial.

“There is no one here to speak for Desarie,” prosecutor Mary Sedgwick said Friday of the victim, Desarie Elizabeth Saravia. “There’s no mother, no father. No one who knew her. But, even though she’s dead,” Sedgwick said, “she has one cry left.”

“It’s not a stifled moan. It is loud and it’s strong and it’s courageous, and it echoes (off) every wall in this courtroom.

“It’s Desarie’s cry for justice.”

Desarie was pronounced dead at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital on Nov. 12, 2004. She arrived at the hospital with bruises, cuts and burns to her entire body.

Rodriguez was Desarie’s mother’s boyfriend. The child’s mother, Debby Saravia, is due to stand trial in Desarie’s death.

The courtroom was packed Friday with at least one of the convicted man’s sisters and his mother in attendance.

Contrasting photos

In the silence before attorneys delivered their final arguments, and as an unshackled killer sat calmly in an ochre-colored shirt and tie, a TV-sized black-and-white photograph of Desarie loomed at the front of the room.

With big dark eyes and a slight smile, Desarie in the photograph was starkly different from the abused body shown in 100 medical and forensic graphic exhibits presented during the trial.

The picture showed Desarie dressed in a fine lacy white dress, with a garland of white flowers in her hair. With her was her little brother, Brian, wearing a dark suit and tie, his hand on his sister’s shoulder.

“If you can look beyond the brutality, “Sedgwick said, “you’ll see long brown eyelashes that should be giving butterfly kisses. She’ll never have a boyfriend, never marry, never have children.

“So when he asks for mercy,” she said, stepping toward Rodriguez and pointing, “ask yourself, ‘Did he show mercy when he sexually penetrated her? Or when he slammed her head against the wall, or when he broke her intestines?’ What mercy did he show her?

“Don’t give him what he wants. Give him what he deserves,” she told the jury.

For most of the morning, Sedgwick methodically listed several aggravating factors she said tip the scales in favor of the death penalty, as well as the defendant’s three prior felony convictions and a documented history of violence and implied violence dating back to 1997.

Beaten as a child

Defense attorney Robert A. Schwartz presented jurors with a different photo — one of a smiling young Antonio Rodriguez, hair neatly combed.

“Something happened to that cute 5-year-old boy,” he said of the photo, “to become the defendant that sits here today.”

Just as Sedgwick itemized aggravating factors, Schwartz itemized mitigating factors for jurors considering the death penalty.

“After this is all over, and we could talk freely in the hallway, I want you to imagine if we had presented no evidence of mitigating factors and the jury had returned a verdict for the death penalty.

“You might well ask, ‘Well, what about his background? And what about his family?’ And, I would say, ‘As a matter of fact, he grew up in a terrible family with a drunk, violent and cowardly father who beat his mother and beat the children, and that he grew up in an atmosphere of terror.

“You might say ‘I wish I had known that. Why didn’t you tell us?’”

Not ‘worst of the worst’

Schwartz made no excuses for the crimes his client committed. Instead, he articulated what he called the “So what?” disposition of those who would dismiss his client without consideration.

“Let’s assume he does suffer a brain abnormality. Let’s assume he is impulsive and has no ability to plan. You might be inclined to say, ‘So  what? He killed a 5-year-old child.’

“The death penalty should be reserved for the worst of the worst,” he said, describing his client as caring for his family, inspiring his sisters.

He was the only person who ever fed Desarie regularly, told her brother to get help the day Desarie died, and tried CPR to save her life, Schwartz said.

“Antonio Rodriguez has done many bad things,” Schwartz said. “The crimes he committed in this case are indefensible. But what he has done in his life is not the worst of the worst.”

Debby Saravia, who remains in custody, was reportedly working in Castaic cleaning a home there the day Desarie died.


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