Man who raped, killed child spared death penalty

2013-11-01T18:30:00Z 2013-11-02T13:51:08Z Man who raped, killed child spared death penaltyBy Patrick McNamara Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The man convicted of raping and murdering a 7-year-old girl will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

A jury in the courtroom of Pima County Superior Court Judge Deborah Bernini on Friday decided enough mitigating factors were proven to spare Kyle Alegria the death penalty.

Alegria was found guilty in October of the kidnapping, rape and murder of Rhia Almeida in 2009.

Almeida was a friend of Alegria’s younger brother and came to the Ajo house Alegria lived in with his parents to visit. Alegria was home alone at the time and killed the girl, leaving her body in a wash next to the house.

Throughout the weeklong mitigation phase of the trial jurors heard testimony from Alegria’s father and from two psychologists who examined the convicted killer while in jail.

The picture the defense painted showed an upbringing rife with neglect and abuse.

In testimony that at times delved deep into the dark and dysfunctional familial relations in the Alegria household, the defense tried to cast the defendant’s parents as the cause of Alegria’s violent sexual outrage.

“If two parents had set out intentionally to create a child at enormously high-risk of criminal behavior, sexual deviance and a fusion of sex and violence, they could not have done a better job than Margo and Loretto Alegria did,” said Matthew Mendel, a North Carolina-based psychologist.

Mendel said Alegria had early and frequent exposure to domestic violence, horror movies and pornography.

Mendel described how Alegria began regular viewing of pornographic movies at home when he was as young as 3 years old.

Both his parents, Mendel said, were aware of their son’s growing appetite for pornography.

From an early age Alegria also frequently watched violent horror films with his mother.

In addition, Mendel said an older boy in the neighborhood raped Alegria when he was 7 or 8 years old, but Alegria’s parents didn’t do anything about it.

Mendel recounted his conversations with Alegria, described how Alegria later developed a sexual attraction to his mother and often fantasized about her.

At some point in his young life, Mendel said, images of violence and sex were fused in Alegria’s mind.

“Kyle Alegria’s childhood was a fusion of sex and violence,” Mendel said.

Another psychologist, Mark Cunningham, testified that Alegria continuously lagged behind peers intellectually and developmentally, a disparity that grew with age.

Cunningham said Alegria’s low intellectual functioning and 74 IQ placed him as mildly mentally retarded, something Alegria’s attorneys focused on throughout the trial.

Both of Alegria’s parents also have low-intellectual function bordering on mental retardation, defense attorney Brian Metcalf said.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Rick Unklesbay said the possibility of mental retardation made the death penalty question particularly difficult for a jury.

In addition, state law does not allow for the execution of a mentally retarded person.

Unklesbay also speculated that Alegria’s age, 19 at the time of crime, likely helped sway the jury away from the death penalty.

Even with the death penalty off the table, Alegria likely would spend the remainder of his life in prison.

Because the crimes were committed against a child, the sentences of 35 years to life in prison would have to be served consecutively.

Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 9.

Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at 573-4241 or pmcnamara@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @pm929.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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