Convicted Child Killer Back in Court

Posted: 8th June 2011 by Doc in Uncategorized
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DAKOTA CITY — Standing before three judges, who could sentence him to death, Melecio Camacho-De Jesus’ voice quivered Tuesday as he accepted responsibility for the brutal rape and murder of a South Sioux City toddler.

Dressed in a black and white striped jumpsuit, Camacho-De Jesus clutched a statement in his hands that he had written. He didn’t plead for his life in the Dakota County District courtroom, but apologized to Evelyn Verdugo Paniagua’s parents.

“If I could roll back the clock and correct my errors I would do so with all my heart,” the Mexican national said in Spanish through an interpreter.

Evelyn’s father, Leonardo Verdugo, held his head in his hands, as her mother, Brisa Paniagua, wiped tears from her eyes.

Defense attorney Todd Lancaster presented evidence and testimony for nearly 6 hours at the mitigation hearing in effort to convince the 3-judge panel to sentence his client to a lifetime in prison instead of death by lethal injection.

Last July, a Dakota County jury found the 31-year-old guilty of first-degree murder. The same jury who convicted Camacho-De Jesus convened immediately after his trial for an aggravation hearing, where it determined circumstances existed that warranted seeking the death penalty.

Prosecutors and police said Camacho-De Jesus climbed through a window of Evelyn’s family’s mobile home on May 23, 2009, then raped and killed the child.

Defense attorneys argue that Camacho-De Jesus was under the influence of cocaine, marijuana and alcohol at the time of the crime and didn’t understand the nature and consequences of his actions.

Nebraska Assistant Attorney General Corey O’Brien said in opening statements Tuesday that Camacho-De Jesus selected Evelyn, a helpless victim, who was asleep in the same bed with her older brother.

“We believe he picked the weakest, most vulnerable child to assault. He sought out the most easily available target,” O’Brien said.

Judges Robert B. Ensz, William T. Wright and John P. Murphy will review evidence presented Tuesday, as well as arguments from both sides, which are to be submitted by July 1.

Sentencing is expected to be pronounced at a hearing to be held before Aug. 1.

Maria del Carmen Mendoza-Pulido, dressed in a green shirt, her long dark hair pulled back, asked that her husband’s life be spared in a videotaped statement that was played in court.

Camacho-De Jesus glanced at the TV, then hung his head and closed his eyes.

Mendoza-Pulido, who lives in San Luis Rey — a town across the border from Yuma, Ariz. — said she still loves Camacho-De Jesus, the father of her three sons.

“I would like them to pardon him,” she said in Spanish. “I don’t want them to kill my husband.”

Mendoza-Pulido said Camacho-De Jesus was a “very happy” person who was also whistling and singing. He rarely got angry, but when he did, she said he would go outside and kick a ball.

While he was living and working in the United States, Mendoza-Pulido said Camacho-De Jesus regularly sent money to support his family and called every day to talk to her and the children.

“What he did, I think he did it because he wasn’t well,” she said. “He’s not like that.”

Mendoza-Pulido corroborated earlier testimony from Scott Bresler, a clinical psychiatrist, who conducted a forensic psychiatric evaluation on Camacho-De Jesus in Sept. 2010.

Bresler testified that Camacho-De Jesus told him that he grew up in extreme poverty, was beaten by his mother, and sexually assaulted by a family friend and an older adolescent.

He dropped out of school in the second grade and went to work on the subway as a clown, selling bubble gum and peanuts to earn money for his family.

In his early 20s, Camacho De-Jesus developed an addiction to alcohol and later methamphetamine. He also used cocaine, marijuana and other stimulants.

Bresler said Camacho-De Jesus moved into Evelyn’s family’s South Sioux City trailer a few weeks before the murder in effort to turn his life around, but the pull of addiction was too great and he moved out.

Camacho-De Jesus climbed through a window in the early morning hours of May 23, and assaulted Evelyn, before prosecutors say he killed her to conceal the crime or his identity as the alleged perpetrator.

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