Jeanine Mona Escandon will spend the rest of her life in prison for the murder of a 59-year-old Topaz Ranch Estates man, described as the one person in her troubled life who tried to help her.
District Judge Tod Young sentenced the 39-year-old Escandon to life in prison without the possibility of parole Thursday for the Oct. 29, 2011, murder of Norman Lee Welch who had befriended her in 2009.
The sentencing followed a three-hour hearing which included an emotional statement from the murder victim’s 41-year-old daughter as well as testimony from the defendant’s aunt who described a life of abuse which began when Escandon was an infant.
In a brief statement, Escandon — who has spent 539 days in custody — apologized to Welch’s daughter Danelle for the shooting she continued to describe as an accident.
“I’m sorry for taking your father from you,” Escandon said. “It’s not what I meant to do. Your father’s death was an accident. I am sorry for the emotional pain. I wish I could take it all back.”
District Attorney Mark Jackson called Welch’s death a “black-hearted” crime.
He said Escandon shot Welch as he napped on a couch in his living room, then locked the door — leaving a cat inside the residence — and fled to Los Angeles.
Welch’s body was not discovered until Nov. 18, three weeks after he died.
“Nothing is more cold-blooded or black-hearted than walking up to someone who is napping, pulling the trigger and shooting him in the head. The cowardly way this murder occurred cannot be overlooked,” Jackson said.
Escandon’s attorney, Kris Brown, said her client knew what she did was wrong, but hadn’t been able to overcome a “damaged mind” created by physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
The defendant’s aunt, Mona Espinoza, said she first noticed the abuse when she found her 3-month-old niece in a crib “with a bunch of cats.”
At seven months, Escandon’s mother bottle-fed her infant daughter beer so she would nap. When the little girl was older, her mother tied her foot to a couch leg so she wouldn’t run out of the house.
Espinoza said there were early indications of sexual abuse as evidenced by Escandon molesting her own sister and cousin as well as a neighbor.
Espinoza said she reported her concerns to authorities, but there was never any follow-up.
Brown said the abuse and neglect were never treated, and Escandon grew up to use drugs and alcohol.
According to reports, Escandon was on methamphetamine and an antipsychotic drug at the time of the shooting.
Reports indicated she believed Welch was holding her against her will, and over-medicating her. After the shooting, she stole Welch’s vehicle, fled to Los Angeles, and threw the murder weapon out of the car. It has not been recovered.
“In the end, I don’t think we’ll ever know what led to the actual shooting,” Brown said. “The one person who really tried to help her out is the one she ended up killing.”
Brown requested Young sentence her client to 50 years in prison with parole possibility after 20.
Escandon pleaded guilty to the murder in March in agreement with the district attorney’s office which called for three options: life without parole, life with parole and 50 years with parole possibility after 20.
Jackson asked for the maximum.
Welch’s daughter Danelle, who wept during the hearing, said her pain at the loss of her father was indescribable.
“My father was my first love, my eternal love. I am saddened, angry and pained beyond words. This is not some horror film I’m watching. It’s my life I am living,” Welch said.
“I don’t know why we’re discussing options when my father had no options,” she said. “He was shot and left for dead. My father didn’t get a second chance.”
Welch said she would always be a “daddy’s girl.”
“My dad understood me like no one else did,” she said. “He was the epitome of unconditional love.”
Young, who said he kept a picture of Welch and her father on his desk during the hearing, acknowledged Escandon’s horrific childhood.
“You got a loving environment when you were with the man you murdered,” Young said.
He referred to records that showed Welch took Escandon to doctors’ appointments and monitored her medications.
“He was the one taking you to the doctor, the one who let you come back home,” Young said.
Young said the fact that Escandon still claimed the shooting was accidental even though she pled guilty to first-degree murder was further evidence she was a danger to the community and deserved life in prison without parole.
Addressing Welch’s family, Young said he knew the sentencing would not bring closure.
“I don’t know that there’s anything I can do to provide closure,” Young said. “This court can hope your pain ebbs and diminishes, but doesn’t think this wound will ever heal for you. I hope you can find a time when you can go on and have good days and memories of a good, decent man who loved you and loved Ms. Escandon.”
Following the sentencing, Jackson he was gratified with the sentence.
“It’s hard to say I am happy or even relieved. The fact remains someone died whom all these people loved. I am happy to see that the case is ended. This is one of those cases I will never forget.”
Danelle Welch expressed her gratitude to the district attorney’s office, investigators and the judge.
“I just want to say thank you to everyone who worked so hard for my father,” she said.