After calling it the worst case he’s seen in nearly four decades in law, a Yakima County Superior Court judge sentenced Manuel Enrique Verduzco Jr. to 2 life sentences without the possibility of parole for the murders of 2 women in a Money Tree, payday lending store two years ago.
“It was a horrific crime somewhat inexplicable given Mr. Verduzco’s lack of criminal history, but a deliberate and cold-blooded murder of two people who did nothing more than go to work that morning,” Judge Michael McCarthy said in court.
The jury, he said, made the right choice in rejecting an insanity defense. The sentence came after emotional statements from friends and family members of the victims. Yakima Herald reported.
“Knowing how close we all came (to death) not only scares us but gives us guilt,” said MoneyTree branch manager Dena Bird.
On the day they were killed outside the Money Tree in March 2016, neither Karina Morales-Rodriguez, 27, of Toppenish nor Marta Martinez, 30, of Yakima were scheduled to open the store but had switched shifts with other workers. One of the women who was killed agreed to work Saturday because she wanted to attend Easter service the following day.
“How do we look their families in the face knowing we’re still here, but they’re not?” Bird said.
By not pleading guilty and “taking responsibility for his actions,” Verduzco has tormented the families of his victims, said Gabriel Piñon, husband of Morales-Rodriguez and Toppenish City Council member.
“She was my soulmate,” he said. “She was a daughter. She was a mother. She was a friend.”
Also testifying was Morales-Rodriguez’s sister.
“Every day I think about (Martinez),” said Michelle Martinez. “I find myself longing to hear her laugh. I miss cracking jokes with her.
“I lost a sister. I lost a best friend,” she continued. “I live every day missing her and wishing she was here.”
Verduzco’s defense attorneys had argued he was experiencing a schizophrenic episode when he killed the women, an argument for which several doctors and friends provided supporting testimony.
However, other doctors said Verduzco had been faking symptoms of the illness. Prosecutors instead blamed the deaths on a robbery gone bad.
Verduzco’s conviction followed a trial that lasted more than two weeks.
On Friday, Verduzco’s defense attorney, Peter Mazzone, said he’s not ready to give up.
“Go ahead and sentence him and we’ll file our appeal paperwork today,” he said.