Berardino Zuniga signed letter envelope set

Berardino Zuniga signed letter envelope set


A day after hearing Bernardino Zuniga's mother describe her son's lifelong mental illnesses and poverty, a jury still recommended Zuniga be put to death for raping and killing 7-year-old April Sweet 13 years ago.

After just three hours of deliberations, the jury became the second Davidson County jury to sentence Zuniga, 40, to death.The state Supreme Court overturned Zuniga's original death sentence last year because jurors at a 1985 trial did not hear any defense evidence or character witnesses detailing Zuniga's troubled life.

As the verdict was announced Thursday afternoon in Superior Court in Lexington, several of April's family members - including her mother - broke into tears, as they had several other times during the three-week re-sentencing hearing.


``I think her family thinks they can put this all behind them now,' said District Attorney Gene Morris, who has never lost a death penalty case.


But Zuniga's case isn't over yet. Under state law, it will automatically be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Zuniga will be transported back to Central Prison in Raleigh, where he has spent the last 10 years on death row.

During the hearing, prosecutors described the gruesome details of the crime, the pain April felt when Zuniga raped her and stabbed her twice in the neck near her grandfather's tobacco farm.

His two appointed defense attorneys hoped they could overshadow the prosecution by providing the jury with descriptions of Zuniga's life growing up in a poor Mexican village, where he lived with six relatives in a one-room hut with a dirt floor, tree branches for walls and no electricity and plumbing.

Medical experts for the defense testified that Zuniga is retarded, has the mental capacity of a young child and has never understood the criminal aspects of what he did.

``It's not an excuse for murder. It's not an excuse for rape,' defense attorney Stephen Smith said. ``This is an attempt to provide you with adequate information so you can try to decide what the appropriate punishment is.'

The letter and envelope are both handwritten. The letter is signed in full.

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