Judge Stanley Sacks on Wednesday had just handed down a 35-year prison sentence to Crystal Valdez, who had been convicted of murder in the 2011 beating death of her 4-year-old son, Christopher.
Sacks, who presided over the trials of both Valdez and her boyfriend, Cesar Ruiz, called the case one of the worst he’d seen in three decades on the bench, and he was clearly appalled by a final request from the defense.
Before deputies walked Valdez out of the courtroom to be shipped to prison, her lawyer asked, could Valdez have a few moments with her remaining children?
“With her kids? My goodness, a question like that?” Sacks said to defense attorney Brett Balmer. The judge turned his gaze to Valdez.
“Do you want to see Christopher, Ms. Valdez? A picture of him also?”
During the three-hour hearing, the judge repeatedly cited his clear recollection of testimony at trial, and showed little sympathy for defense arguments that Valdez’s low IQ and a string of abusive boyfriends had rendered her a passive witness to a fatal beating doled out by Ruiz. Four years ago, Sacks sentenced Ruiz to 75 years in prison.
Valdez’s sister-in-law testified at trial that she and her husband, Crystal’s brother, had discovered Christopher’s body when they went to bring presents for what would have been his fourth birthday.
Valdez’s brother climbed in a window of the apartment Valdez shared with Ruiz and her four children, after Valdez didn’t answer the door. Once they were inside the house, Valdez tried to keep them out of the bedroom, where Christopher’s battered body had been wrapped inside a blanket.
On Wednesday, wearing a yellow prison jumpsuit and her hair pulled into braids, Valdez sat anxiously at the defense table, her legs bouncing underneath the table. She choked up repeatedly in her remarks to the judge before sentencing, which were mostly directed to her children.
“I miss my family, and I miss Christopher, too,” she said. “Whatever happens today, happens.”
Valdez looked away from a monitor screen in the courtroom as prosecutors played video of her youngest daughter, being interviewed by a children’s advocate seven years ago about the fatal beating. Her parents and youngest daughter were seated behind her in the courtroom gallery; her brother and sister in-law sat with her older children, behind the prosecutors.
Before Valdez was led from the courtroom, only her youngest daughter, now 11, remained to visit with her mother. Sacks insisted that each child have only two minutes with their mother, “you can’t touch the kids or anything,” the judge said.
When Valdez extended her clenched hand for a fist-bump, a sheriff’s deputy pushed the girl’s hand away.
The girl left the courtroom in tears.