RIVERSIDE (CBS) — A jury Thursday convicted a 21-year-old man accused of murdering his aunt for greed.
Adolfo Jose Morales Barahona could face life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard Schwartz on Nov. 16.
The prosecution accused Barahona of killing 47-year-old IIma Sauceo in 2011.
While Saucedo’s body was never found, the DA said there was no question she was murdered and that Barahona was the person who killed her.
Jurors deliberated about 90 minutes Thursday before returning with verdicts.
They found Barahona guilty of the murder count, as well as special circumstance allegations of killing during the commission of a burglary and during a robbery in connection with Saucedo’s disappearance about three days before Valentine’s Day in 2011.
The Guatemalan national allegedly killed his aunt to steal her cash and car, both of which he used to impress a teenage love interest, Riverside County Deputy District Attorney John Aki charged.
The man’s attorney had argued his client couldn’t be convicted of anything because the “simplest, easiest” questions weren’t answered — including whether Saucedo was even dead.
“She’s not coming back,” Riverside County Deputy District Attorney John Aki told jurors during his closing statement. “Because this man had a lust for money and a girl, his aunt paid the price.”
According to trial testimony, Barahona had been staying at his aunt’s Riverside home in the 4200 block of Hale Street in the weeks before her disappearance. Saucedo owned the single-story residence, which she shared with two renters.
Barahona did not work, living off his aunt’s charity, according to Aki.
The prosecutor told jurors said Barahona had become obsessed with a 17-year-old Bakersfield girl, Paola, whom the defendant met online.
In the week before Saucedo vanished, Paola had indicated she wanted to break off communication with Barahona, prompting the defendant to vow to see her and provide her with cash and a new mobile phone, Aki said.
“He had one mission: to see his love,” the prosecutor said. “He had to impress this girl.”
Aki described Saucedo as “a hoarder of cash” and said she kept plenty of it on hand, hidden in dresser drawers, the closet, and locked in a safe next to her bed.
The prosecutor theorized that Barahona decided to steal whatever cash he could find while his aunt and her two renters were at work.
“But Ilma came home early and surprised him,” Aki said.
He acknowledged not knowing what happened next, but said it was certain it ended in her murder. The lack of a body, fingerprint evidence, DNA, blood or witnesses was no reason to doubt the defendant’s guilt, Aki said.
According to testimony, Barahona then took his aunt’s Honda Accord and drove to Bakersfield to see Paola. He checked into a motel room under an assumed name and paid cash for everything. One witness testified that Barahona was carrying at least $3,000.
“This man has no job and no means of support,” Aki said. “Where did he get that kind of money?”
When Saucedo’s housemates inquired as to her whereabouts, Barahona said that she had returned to Guatemala. But Aki noted that the woman’s passport, credit cards, makeup bag and driver’s license were all found in her ransacked room.
Barahona’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Greg Roach, argued the prosecution’s case was “based on a hunch” with no real evidence to tie him to a crime. “They’re playing a guessing game,” Roach said. “What if Ilma was kidnapped? We don’t know. How do we know she’s dead? If she is, then they should be able to answer the simplest, easiest questions … Where’s the murder scene? What happened? How? Who did it and when? The prosecution has put together a story because the pieces aren’t there.”
Roach warned jurors not to attempt to “fill in the blanks” themselves but instead rely on the evidence.
He also explained that his client carried large sums of money because Barahona was a drug dealer.
“Does anybody know this was a robbery? If so, who saw it? Who heard it?” the attorney asked.
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