jail cells
Example of jail cells. Photo via Pixabay

The California Supreme Court is set to hear an automatic appeal next month in the case of a Santa Clarita woman who was sentenced to death for murdering her four daughters and trying to kill her son in an arson fire at the family’s home more than two decades ago.

Sandi Dawn Nieves was convicted of murder for the July 1, 1998, deaths of Jaqlene Marie Folden, 5, Kristl Dawn Folden, 7, Rashel Hollie Nieves, 11, and Nikolet Amber Nieves, 12, who died from inhaling soot, smoke and carbon monoxide.

Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder while lying in wait and murder during an arson, along with convicting her of one count each of arson and the attempted murder of her son, David, who testified against her.

“I love my son,” she said shortly before she was sentenced to death in October 2000. “If I could take back time, if I could do things better, if I was smarter, if I had time before everyone passed out, we would have gotten out of that house.”

Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt was unswayed, saying the woman “betrayed the trust of her children by convincing them they were to have a family slumber party.”

The judge noted at the sentencing that Nieves set a series of fires with gasoline throughout the house and that the children begged to be allowed to go outside, adding that she ignored one daughter’s plea to go to the bathroom to vomit and told her instead to be sick in the kitchen.

“The defendant very clearly had in mind that her children would die,” Wiatt said then. “She was staging this multiple murder as her final act of revenge to the men in her life.”

Nieves’ trial attorney, Deputy Public Defender Howard Waco, contended that the judge should not have barred him from telling the jury that Nieves allegedly had a brain abnormality that affected her ability to make judgments during periods of stress.

Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman countered that the death penalty was the only appropriate verdict given the magnitude of the crimes.

“She killed four children and would have killed a fifth. But by the grace of God he survived,” the prosecutor said. “It would be less horrific, less unimaginable, if you had a stranger come into the home in the middle of the night.”

Silverman pointed out that Nieves told her children to stay in the house after setting the fires.

Nieves’ two former husbands attended her sentencing, but did not speak.

The case is set Feb. 2 before the state’s highest court.

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