As the courthouse elevator descended, 36-year-old Roberto Flores stared at a photograph of his daughter, Zoraida, in the palm of his hand.
“It’s over,” he said as he stepped out.
With tears in his eyes, he got off on the third floor and walked a line of 12 jurors, shaking their hands.
“Thank you,” he said to each one.
After two hours of deliberation on Monday, the jurors had found Martha Flores, Roberto Flores’ ex-wife, guilty of first-degree murder by child abuse for the death of 5-year-old Zoraida
Roberto Flores had left for work about 5:15 a.m. on Jan. 28, 2001, leaving Zoraida in the care of Martha Flores. Martha Flores’ three children were also at the home.
Doctors determined that about 20 minutes after her father had left, Zoraida received a fatal blow to the head that killed her within an hour, prosecutor Pam Weckerly said.
Martha Flores’ defense attorney, Al Lasso, tried to convince the jury that the head wound that killed Zoraida took hours to kill her.
Martha Flores, 31, told authorities she found Zoraida unresponsive and soaked in urine in her bed after her husband left for work. She tried to revive her, changed her clothes and put up her hair before she went to a neighbor’s for help.
Lasso said he believed Zoraida was dead when Martha Flores’ found her and hinted Roberto Flores could be the culprit. Lasso said Martha Flores loved Zoraida and treated her like her own daughter.
But prosecutors told the jury that Martha Flores despised Zoraida because she competed for Roberto Flores’ attention. Martha Flores had told Zoraida’s teacher that the girl was her enemy, prosecutors said.
“She didn’t want this girl around,” Weckerly said.
Despite the fact that Martha Flores called 911 at 5:53 a.m. about Zoraida’s condition, it was the Las Vegas police who first informed Roberto Flores about his daughter, six hours later at the Luxor where he worked as a food worker.
A Las Vegas detective testified that the grieving father collapsed.
He had married Martha Flores, who was pregnant with her third child, in 2000. He met her after he answered a newspaper ad of hers seeking clothing for her children.
Roberto Flores had his marriage to Martha Flores annulled after he learned she was already married to another man in Mexico. She was convicted of a felony count of bigamy in 2002.
That same year, Martha Flores was convicted of first-degree murder by child abuse for Zoraida’s death, but the state Supreme Court sent the case back to District Court, finding prosecutors’ case was supported by inadmissible hearsay.
At issue was the testimony of Martha Flores’ 5-year-old daughter, Sylvia, who prosecutors believe witnessed the blow that killed Zoraida. Sylvia told multiple people that her mother and Zoraida were arguing after Zoraida wet herself and resisted getting in the shower. Martha Flores then delivered a blow that knocked Zoraida down and she never got up, according to witnesses who recounted Sylvia’s story in court after the then 6-year-old was barred from testifying.
Earlier this month, Sylvia, now 11, gave a deposition, however, in which she testified Zoraida slipped in the bathroom and hit her head. Sylvia said she did not recall what she told authorities in 2001.
Prosecutors then put her on the witness stand last week, where Sylvia recounted that she had, in fact, seen her mother hit Zoraida in the bathroom, and Zoraida fell down but got back up.
District Judge Joseph Bonaventure will sentence Martha Flores next week. Her previous sentence was 20 years to life, which she has been serving since the 2002 conviction.
For prosecutor Bill Kephart, who has been on the case since the first trial, the verdict was emotional.
“It’s a little kid,” he said. “It eats me up.”
He hugged Roberto Flores and his family after the verdict was read.
In 2003, Roberto Flores married Zoraida’s mother, Cynthia, and they have a 4-year-old son. They also have Cynthia Flores’ 9-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.
But it was Zoraida who filled his thoughts Monday. He choked up as he recalled how she loved to run.
And he remembered how “she’d kiss me a lot.”