A Highland Park man convicted of murdering two men and leaving their bodies in a car he abandoned on a Pasadena street, then carjacking a woman to get away, was sentenced today to two life prison terms without the possibility of parole.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alex Ricciardulli gave Manuel
Penaloza, 25, an additional 62 years and eight months to life in state prison
for his Oct. 27, 2006, crimes.
Penaloza was convicted Sept. 21 of first-degree murder for the slayings
of Francisco Regalado and Joe Malta.
Jurors also convicted Penaloza of carjacking a woman after crashing the
vehicle he was driving, along with grand theft of Regalado's 1992 Honda Accord.
The jury acquitted Penaloza of the attempted murder of the carjacking victim,
along with a charge that he had kidnapped Regalado.
Police found the bodies of Regalado and Malta in Regalado's car, which
was abandoned on San Rafael Boulevard after the crash. Each had a gunshot wound to the head, and authorities believe Penaloza killed the two because he thought they had disrespected him, according to Deputy District Attorney Amy Ashvanian.
"I feel so empty and sad and angry because this should not have
happened,'' Regalado's mother, Lupe Zamora, told the judge.
Regalado's cousin, Vanessa Zamora, said he is 'truly and greatly
missed'' and will live forever in her heart.
In a letter read on her behalf in court, the carjacking victim, Heidi
Muenzenmayer, wrote that her life was 'changed forever'' after her encounter
with Penaloza. She said she tried to fight him off, because her 12-week-old
puppy was in the car
"He brutally attacked me, left me for dead and kidnapped my dog,'' she
wrote in the letter. "Manuel Penaloza, you will never hurt anyone again.''
During the trial, Muenzenmayer told jurors that the man she described as
having "eyes that were so evil I couldn't imagine'' was walking toward her
40th anniversary model, 2004 Ford Mustang, which contained her 12-week-old
Australian shepherd puppy. She said she struggled with Penaloza for control of
the car and made the choice to stay in the vehicle "because he wasn't getting
away with my puppy.''
Penaloza took off in the Mustang, reaching speeds of about 65 mph and
elbowing her in the chest in an effort to knock her out of the car, she
"He kept saying `Get out, get out.' He kept swerving back and forth. He
kept hitting things to try to throw me out of the car,'' she told jurors,
noting that the car struck a brick wall 300-400 feet away from where it was
taken and that she couldn't hang on any longer.
"The last thing I screamed at him was `Please don't kill my dog,''' she
said, adding that she was told the dog had been found safe later. She said
she suffered injuries to her face and left arm and lost part of her right heel.
Penaloza had a criminal record before he "took two innocent lives,''
the prosecutor told the judge.
Defense attorney Manuel Lopez said his client had been a drug addict
since he was 13, and his girlfriend and unborn baby were killed in front of him
by gang members.
"Mr. Penaloza, at the time of this incident, was already carrying a lot
of mental baggage,'' his lawyer said, telling the judge that his client is
The judge denied the defense's request to run the life prison terms
concurrently rather than consecutively, saying he believed the trial testimony
indicated that Penaloza was trying to conceal the killings and managed to flee
from justice for years.
Penaloza's case drew national headlines in 2007, when he was featured by America's Most Wanted. That same year, he topped AMW host John Walsh's most wanted list.
Penaloza evaded authorities for more than two years before being captured near his grandfather's village in Guerrero, Mexico.
As a result of his extradition from Mexico, Penaloza was not eligible for the death penalty.