Daily News

Saturday, April 6, 2002

Mom sentenced for slaying sons

By Sabrina Decker
Staff Writer
Daily News

Socorro Caro, 44, is taken from a Ventura County courtroom Friday. (A.P.)
VENTURA -- The wife of a respected San Fernando Valley doctor was sentenced to death on Friday for the cold-blooded murders of three of the couple's young sons in their Santa Rosa Valley mansion.

In affirming a jury's recommendation that Socorro "Cora" Caro be executed, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Donald Coleman said the fatal shootings had been "willful, premeditated and committed with malice aforethought."

"The brutal murder of these three children occurred in the sanctity of their homes ... (they had become) sacrificial symbolic pawns of a failed marital relationship," he said.

Calling the slayings the "mass murder of innocent children," the judge said, "The weight of this factor is quite simply enormous."

Prosecutors said Caro was seeking revenge against her husband for their failing marriage when she shot Xavier Jr., 11, Michael, 8, and Christopher, 5, in the head at point-blank range Nov. 22, 1999. A fourth son, 13-month-old Gabriel, was unharmed, and now resides with his father.

Caro also tried to kill herself, but survived a gunshot wound to the head. She says the injury caused brain damage that prevents her from remembering what happened the night of the shootings.

Outside court, Deputy District Attorney Cheryl Temple said the sentence was appropriate.

"She murdered three kids -- an 11-year-old, an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old. It was murder of the most callous type by a selfish and vindictive person," Temple said.

Flanked by her attorneys and dressed in jail blues, Caro sat stoically during the sentencing.

Deputy Public Defender Nicholas Beeson supported her as she was later led from the courtroom -- pale, gaunt and visibly shaken.

Caro will be transferred to the prison in San Quentin, while her death sentence is automatically appealed.

Earlier in the hearing, Caro broke down while walking past her husband, Dr. Xavier Caro, who was seated in the courtroom gallery.

"How could you do this to us! How could you do this to us!" she shouted at Caro, a prominent rheumatologist practicing in Northridge. "Look at him! He's smirking at me! He's smirking!"

The defense argued during Caro's four-month trial that Xavier Caro actually killed his sons, then framed his wife for the crime.

Xavier Caro left the courthouse without speaking to reporters, but his spokesman, Howard Bragman, later said the day had been grueling.

"I'm glad to have the day behind me, is what he actually said," Bragman said. "It was a very tough day."

Bragman also read a prepared statement that he and Caro had drafted earlier.

"There can be no joy in this decision, only some measure of resolution," the statement said. "There are only two reasons I have been able to endure this unimaginable nightmare: the first is the remarkable support that I have been shown by my family, my friends and my staff and patients. The second is my son Gabriel."

Cora Caro's relatives and supporters were in the courtroom for the sentencing. They said they still believe she is innocent.

"We love Cora, and we're going to be backing her all the way," said Irene Zavala, a member of the jail ministry who has known Caro for years. "I just visited her last week and she had more faith than I have."

Earlier Friday, Coleman had ruled against a motion for a new trial filed by Deputy Public Defender Jean Farley, who said jurors had talked about the case before deliberations began.

"The real evil that's to be guarded against is whether or not there was any improper influence or bias on the part of the jurors," Farley said.

But Coleman said allegations of improper discussions could not be proved and he doubted they would have influenced members of the 10-woman, two-man jury who found Caro guilty and recommended the death penalty.

"We had a very intelligent jury in this case, and I am satisfied that they were not misled," he said.