The jury in the trial of Daniel Luna-Romero deliberated little more than an hour before finding the defendant guilty of murder Wednesday afternoon in Clatsop County Circuit Court.
Judge Phil Nelson read the 12 jurors' unanimous verdict as relatives and friends of the victim, Amber Luna-Romero, wiped away tears.
"My thought was 'my daughter will rest in peace' - and that justice will be served," said Darcie Tritt, Amber's mother, who attended the entire trial with other relatives and friends of the young woman. She was in the audience when the verdict was read.
Luna-Romero, 25, faces a minimum of 25 years in prison under state sentencing rules. He will be sentenced by Nelson June 24.
The jurors heard a first-hand account of the murder from the killer himself when Luna-Romero took the stand last week. They also heard other witnesses' testimony about the stormy relationship between him and his wife, who met each other in 1999 and married in March 2001 but fought frequently, including a dispute over her desire to find a job outside the home that prompted her to try to leave him the day of her death.
The jury rejected the argument of defense attorney Gerald Petersen that Luna-Romero should be convicted of first-degree manslaughter, a lesser charge carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years, because he suffered from "extreme emotional disturbance" the day he killed his wife, July 17, 2001.
The emotional-disturbance theory was the only argument offered by the defense, which never denied that Luna-Romero stabbed his wife multiple times at the couple's Seaside apartment. An eyewitness watched the end of the attack in the apartment driveway, and the defendant himself described the crime in detail both to a Seaside police detective in a video-taped interview the night of the murder, as well as on the witness stand last week.
"We ask not for your acquittal - it's proper that he pay a price," Petersen told the jury during his closing argument Wednesday morning.
Petersen portrayed his client as a man who tried to provide for his young wife and her two children but who, because of his low intelligence and emotional fragility, was unable to cope with what he saw as Amber Luna-Romero's abandonment of him the day of the crime.
But Chief Deputy District Attorney Dawn McIntosh, in her closing argument, said the "mental handicaps" in Luna-Romero that the defense cited as part of the emotional-disturbance argument are just personality traits of a man who showed the common characteristics of a domestic abuser, who killed his wife in what even a defense psychologist described as a "murderous rage" because she was trying to escape his abuse.
"You don't get a break for killing a person just because you're an angry, mean, violent person," she said.
The "extreme emotional disturbance" defense requires evidence that the defendant lost control because of a sudden provocation or other disturbance, and that someone else in the same circumstances might act the same, McIntosh said. The murder, which followed an argument between the two over his refusal to allow her to get a job, doesn't meet that standard, she said.
"They need to convince you that it is reasonable for a man in his circumstances to butcher his wife because she wanted to get a job, because she wanted to leave," she said.
On the witness stand last week Luna-Romero said he "went out of control" the evening he grabbed a kitchen knife and began stabbing his wife as she collected a bag of empty pop cans in the apartment kitchen. He pursued her out the front door to the driveway, where a neighbor who heard Amber's screams confronted him and ordered him to drop the knife.
A medical examination found 21 wounds on the victim's body, including a stab wound behind the left ear that severed the carotid artery in her neck and caused her to bleed to death.
Daniel Luna-Romero was a proud man, Petersen said, who wanted to provide for his new family, who gave his own family name to his wife's two children despite the fact he was not their biological father. He was upset that Amber would not have a child with him, but became pregnant with her second child during a four-month stay away from him in 2000, he said.
The trial included testimony from several witnesses who spoke of the couple's stormy relationship, and eyewitness accounts of Luna-Romero slapping and yelling at Amber, and on one occasion jumping on her back and hitting her.
But Petersen claimed the victim never showed any signs of extensive bruising or other evidence of physical abuse during the couple's two-year relationship.
McIntosh criticized Petersen's suggestion that Amber Luna-Romero merely took advantage of the defendant's generosity long enough to recover from the "debilitating effects" of the births of her two children before leaving him. After the birth of her first child she remained with him for a year, enduring his abuse and intimidation, and left him only after he threatened her by holding a knife to the throat of the child, she said.
Witnesses' accounts of Luna-Romero's angry outbursts at his wife give a clear picture of their relationship, McIntosh told the jury.
"When a man is engaging in that kind of behavior in front of others, imagine what he did when they were alone," she said.
Tritt described her daughter as a "good kid" with a sense of humor who never got in trouble with the law. A twin whose brother died at birth, Amber spent her first years in a body cast, she said.
"I fought for the first four years of her life to keep her alive, and he took her out in minutes," she said.
Amber's two children live in Washington state with their great-aunt, who is seeking to adopt both boys. At a hearing following the verdict, Nelson terminated Luna-Romero's parental rights to the younger child, Isiais. A hearing on the status of the other boy, Julio, is scheduled for July 12.
Julio, who will turn 2 next month, still has nightmares and cries when he hears sirens or other loud sounds, and is in counseling, Tritt said.
"My family is very close - we'll get these boys through this one way or another," she said.