A man convicted in the killing of a 13-year-old Whittier girl, who was taken to a remote area of Elysian Park where she was raped and shot 18 years ago, was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Just before being sentenced, Jorge Palacios told Jacqueline Piazza’s parents, “I feel really terrible about what happened. Trust me, I wasn’t part of what happened … I know justice will be served.”
A separate jury deadlocked in March 2018 on a murder charge against Palacios’ co-defendants, Santos Grimaldi, 36, Melvin Sandoval, 39, and Rogelio Contreras, 41, and acquitted Contreras of kidnapping to commit another crime, but did not reach a verdict on the same charge against Grimaldi and Sandoval.
Prosecutors plan to retry the murder case against the three.
Palacios, now 41, was convicted in March 2018 of first-degree murder and kidnapping to commit another crime involving the teen’s June 2001 killing.
Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegations of murder during a kidnapping, murder during a rape or attempted rape and murder during the commission or attempted commission of a lewd act on a child, along with gang and gun allegations.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler called the killing “completely unnecessary.”
“She didn’t do anything,” he said of the girl, adding that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In statements read in court by Deputy District Attorney Rachel Greene, one of the girl’s cousins said she had been “destroyed” by her relative’s death and another cousin said the passage of time has not lessened the pain of her killing.
In his opening statement to jurors hearing the case against Grimaldi, Sandoval and Contreras, Deputy District Attorney Dayan Mathai said Palacios told the other gang members that they had to get rid of the teenage runaway after he and his girlfriend beat the girl whom he called an enemy.
The prosecutor told jurors that Grimaldi, Sandoval and Contreras took the crying girl — who was eventually forced to ride in the trunk of the car — to a wilderness area in Elysian Park, where her body was found the next morning by a hiker walking with his dog.
“This crime against Jacqueline was a violent murder where she was shot twice in the head and this is how she was left,” Mathai said, showing jurors a photo of the victim wearing only a pair of socks and shoes.
The prosecutor said the teenager had been raped, with DNA testing showing that a DNA sample consistent with Sandoval’s DNA was found on a vaginal swab taken from the victim and that a DNA sample consistent with Grimaldi’s DNA was collected from her breast.
Palacios’ attorney, Lawrence Forbes, told jurors in his client’s trial that what had happened to the girl was a tragedy, “but the evidence will show that Jorge Palacios had nothing to do with her death” and it “would compound the tragedy to convict him.”
Palacios, Grimaldi, Sandoval and Contreras were indicted in May 2012 in connection with the girl’s killing.
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