Doctors told Barbara Owens she would die nearly five years ago, but on Wednesday she watched as the man who beat her brother to death in front of her was sentenced to life in prison.
“I can never, ever get my brother back, and I’m already losing my life,” Owens said through tears Wednesday at the sentencing for 34-year-old Jaime Zuniga, who was convicted of murder after he beat Edward Turner to death during a 2015 robbery.
“At times, I wish they’d killed me and left my brother alone,” she said.
Prosecutor Michael Schwartzer said Zuniga and his co-defendant, Jennifer Mustachia, knocked on the siblings’ front door and attacked Turner when he opened it. Zuniga beat the 47-year-old with anything he could find, including a hairbrush, a lamp, an ashtray and a crowbar.
Mustachia faces the same murder, robbery and kidnapping charges as Zuniga, and will be sentenced in February.
Owens suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the neurodegenerative disease known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and at the time of the attack was only able to move one of her arms. Now, all of her limbs are paralyzed. Her brother was also disabled, having suffered a brain injury several years before.
Before Owens spoke on Wednesday, her daughter, Stacey Woienski, had to hold Owens’ right hand up so she could be put under oath.
“I have nightmares about it,” Owens said. “My family can’t even talk to me about it anymore.”
Owens said she’d prefer if Zuniga received the death penalty but that she likely wouldn’t live to see the sentence carried out. She said the prison term gave her “some kind of closure.”
Woienski also spoke and said that only she and her mother attended the sentencing because the rest of their family was too heartbroken to bear it.
Zuniga’s attorney, Charles Cano, said the same of Zuniga’s family, who had been present for previous hearings.
Schwartzer said that after beating and restraining Turner, Zuniga left the northeast valley home with a TV while Mustachia stayed behind for hours, during which time she ransacked the home, made meals for herself and changed out of her bloody clothing.
Owens had testified that while Mustachia was still in the home, she threatened to cook Turner’s remains and force Owens to eat them.
Mustachia eventually fell asleep, and Owens was able to escape the home and call for help. When police arrived, they arrested Mustachia and found Turner dead.
Zuniga read a letter to the court in Spanish as an interpreter translated. He asked Owens and her family for forgiveness, and apologized for the pain and suffering they’d endured.
“If I could change my life for his, I would do it this moment,” Zuniga said through the interpreter. “I know I have to pay for what happened, and I’m ready to receive the punishment I will receive.”
Cano asked District Judge Michelle Leavitt to sentence Zuniga to a minimum of 25 years to life with the possibility of parole, while the state asked for a minimum of 30 years to life.
Cano said Zuniga had been a model client and showed remorse for his actions, and argued that Mustachia had been the main aggressor and perpetrator of the crime.
Owens told the court she could never forgive the pair.
“It’s an unforgivable crime, and I’m paying for it with whatever’s left of my life,” Owens said. “They showed no mercy, and they deserve no mercy.”
Leavitt sentenced Zuniga to life in prison, but he will be eligible for parole in 30 years.