For many years, Kyleigh Sousa and her mother, Karen Montenegro, would decorate Christmas trees in every room of the family’s home in New Jersey.
Now, there are no Christmas trees.
The Christmas music that used to blare through the family’s home that Kyleigh would crank up before she baked brownies or dressed up the dogs in holiday garb, no longer is played.
And when the family drives through the neighborhood and sees Christmas lights on their neighbors’ homes, they can’t see the joy in them without Kyleigh; instead, they turn the other way.
For six months, beginning in late May 2010, that’s what prosecutors and Kyleigh’s family contended that Joseluis Marquez did following the early morning he caused her death: He looked the other way and had no intentions of turning himself in after he grabbed her purse and sped off in a rented car, while Kyleigh’s arm was entangled in the purse straps, causing her to be pulled to the ground and dragged for about 30 feet.
On Friday, four members of Kyleigh’s family, including her mother, stepfather, Nick Montenegro, and brothers, Bernie and Michael Sousa, pleaded with Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Edward Bassett on Friday to sentence Marquez to life without parole for taking away the light of their family, their best friend and someone who had a promising life.
Dressed in a black-and-white-striped jail uniform and with long black hair, Marquez mostly looked the other way during most of the hearing.
“If it wasn’t for the Tempe police, we might not be here today,” Karen Montenegro said. “Kyleigh’s life is over. My life is broken beyond repair, my sons’ lives are broken beyond repair; there’s never any happy times.”
But working within the law, Bassett sentenced Marquez, 22, to life with the possibility of parole in 25 years on a charge of first-degree murder and two-and-a-half more years for robbery with 737 of those days credited. He was found guilty of the charges in October.
Kyleigh, the 21-year-old Arizona State University student who was an aspiring trial attorney and grew up in Point Pleasant, N.J., died hours after Marquez pulled up on the curb of the sidewalk near the IHOP restaurant in the 200 block of Apache Trail about 2:30 a.m. May 26, 2010, grabbed her purse with a handful of tip money in it and sped off as its straps were entangled on Kyleigh’s arm.
Kyleigh, who had earlier gotten off work from her waitress job at the Tavern on Mill in Tempe, was dragged to the ground, causing trauma to her head and the car to run over her. She was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Marquez, then 20, went free for the next six months, until a dogged Tempe police investigations unit delved into more than 500 tips and hundreds of speed photo enforcement tickets before discovering the car that fit the description of the one he drove.
After the sentencing, Kyleigh’s family expressed gratitude for the work of Tempe police. Her mother believed what the judge imposed was fair and reasonable, but some expressed disappointment that Marquez did not receive life without parole.
“I hope he dies in prison,” said Bernie Sousa, Kyleigh’s older brother. “He shouldn’t breathe another breath of free air again.”
During the sentencing, Nick Montenegro said, “Kyleigh will always be in our hearts, souls and minds. People lead good lives and you wonder why. People leading good lives have to be protected from those who don’t. He should rot in jail, and when that time comes, he should rot in hell.”
Standing in front of the courthouse, Karen Montenegro said of Marquez, “He’s a bad person; he deserves what he gets. He thought he was going to get away with it. She was my daughter and I wanted the harshest sentence he could get. As long as we’re here, and if he comes up for parole, we will be here to fight it.”
Daniel Marco, a Mesa attorney who also lost his son, ASU student Zachary Marco, 21, in October 2010, after he was shot to death for his laptop computer and cell phone near campus, also was present in the courtroom. Marco’s and Kyleigh’s family supported each other through months of court proceedings.
Earlier this year, Louis Eugene Harper, who was 20 when he shot Marco, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for Marco’s death. Harper’s teenage accomplice, Marion Patterson III, was sentenced to 17 years.
Under Arizona’s murder law, Marquez faced a possible sentence of natural life in prison for causing the death of an individual while committing or fleeing a felony offense, specifically, robbery. The law was amended in August 2012 to eliminate the possibility of early release. Defendants convicted of crimes that occurred before that date may be eligible for release after serving 25 years in prison.
There also were four other passengers inside the car that early morning with Marquez, all whom testified against Marquez. However, they maintained they did not know that Marquez was going to rob or cause the death of anyone. None of them face any charges, according to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
Marquez’s mother, Elizabeth Marquez pleaded with Bassett in the courtroom, saying her son was “not a monster,” and contended that her son did not get a fair trial.
She turned to Kyleigh’s family, apologized that they had lost their daughter, and said that because her son is being sent away, they are going through the same pain.
Karen Montenegro shook her head and said, “No we’re not.”
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