Carlos Eduardo Perez Calderon learned Friday that he’s headed to prison for the next 30 years for fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend.
And according to one of the jurors who found him guilty, that’s due to the testimony of a very brave 9-year-old girl.
The jury of 12 convicted 29-year-old Calderon of second-degree murder last month, for the death of Mindy Hughes, 26.
Calderon fatally shot Hughes at their Lakewood apartment June 6, 2015, while her 8-year-old and 4-year-old daughters were home.
The older daughter, now 9, took the stand during the trial and answered questions about the day her mother was killed.
“Excruciating,” is how juror Elaine Smith described that part of the trial. She attended Calderon’s sentencing Friday, and outside court said the girl’s testimony was important in convincing the jury Calderon was guilty.
“There’s nothing that prepares you for that,” she said about the testimony of the 9-year-old, identified in court records as M.C. “All of the sudden there is this little girl on the stand. She was incredibly brave.”
When M.C. got nervous, Smith said she’d stop and take a breath. And the juror recalled one point at which the girl spoke up and corrected an attorney who had misconstrued something she’d said.
“She was adamant: ‘No, that is not what I said,’ and then she repeated what she had said,” Smith remembered.
M.C. wasn’t at sentencing. The girls live with grandparents out-of-state.
But she did write the court a handwritten note.
“Losing my mom makes me feel sad, mad, angry, and scared, because of what Carlos did.,” M.C. wrote. “… And because of what he did my mom won’t be able to see me grow up.”
Prosecutors said Hughes and Calderon had argued about going to the food bank. Hughes told Calderon he had to be the one to go, because she wasn’t yet a resident, and did not qualify. As the couple shouted, Hughes told her daughters to leave the room. Then Hughes was shot and killed.
Calderon argued Hughes accidentally shot herself. He said the gun went off when she flipped a table it had been on.
Juror Smith said in addition to M.C.’s testimony, a gun expert and the medical examiner helped convince the jury that’s not what happened.
“His story didn’t add up,” Smith said.
Defense attorney Wayne Fricke told the court at sentencing that Calderon, who had no prior criminal history, had been an upstanding member of the community, and that he regretted the day Hughes died.
“He called 911,” Fricke said. “He was doing everything he could to keep her alive.”
Calderon spoke briefly at sentencing, and said: “There are no words I can say about how sorry and remorseful I am over this.”
Calderon’s family wrote the court that he’d been a supportive older brother, and a son who had made his parents proud with his life achievements, including serving in the Washington Army National Guard. They wrote that he wasn’t a killer, and that he felt terrible about Hughes’ death, and the pain suffered by her daughters.
Hughes’ parents wrote the court that they, too had suffered.
“There is a hole in my heart where my daughter once lived,” Hughes’ mother, Tonya Schrock wrote. “No one can mend this.”
Hughes’ father, Lanny Schrock, wrote that they expected to be able to formally adopt their granddaughters soon.
“My wife and I intend to give them the best life possible,” he said, adding that he could see the 9-year-old one day going to an Ivy League school.
After the shooting, the girls lived with M.C.’s former elementary schoolteacher for several months.
M.C. was in Julie Romano’s first-grade class at Lake Tapps Elementary School. Romano heard about Hughes’ death on M.C.’s last day of second grade, and contacted police to find the girls, who she ended up fostering until their grandparents could care for them.
Romano attended the sentencing, and said outside court that she was very proud of M.C, who she said had “looked little and meek on the stand.”
The conviction and sentence made Romano feel that the testimony was worth it, she said, “That she (M.C.) didn’t go through that trauma for nothing.”
The teacher has kept in touch with her former student, and plans one day go to her high school graduation.
Judge Edmund Murphy said at sentencing that flying across the country to take the witness stand is difficult for an adult to do, let alone a child.
“This happened within at least the hearing, if not the sight of these young girls, who are left without their mother and left with memories of what happened that day,” Murphy said. “... They’re really the ones that I think about when I think about this case.”
He told Calderon that guns don’t go off on their own, “someone has to pull the trigger.”
Then the judge gave Calderon an exceptional sentence of 30 years, above the standard range.
And he told Calderon he’s not allowed to contact Hughes’ parents, her youngest daughter, or the little girl who helped send him to prison.