YAKIMA, Wash. — Jaime Munguia Alejandre’s siblings and nieces say he is a good man who loved his wife and eight children.
“He always wanted to have a family where there would be a lot of love, and he was always there for his children and his wife,” said Lucia Alejandre, his sister.
But a Yakima County Superior Court judge sentenced Alejandre, 46, to 27 1/2 years in prison — nine years more than the maximum standard-range sentence — for killing his wife and leaving her burning body in a backyard pit for two of her eight children to find.
“You shattered your family’s lives,” Judge Gayle Harthcock told the Granger man as she imposed sentence. “This will follow you forever. You murdered someone. Your children are scattered.”
A jury found Alejandre guilty in December of second-degree murder and unlawfully disposing of a body in the death of Maria Gonzalez-Castillo at their Nass Road home in early June 2017. Jurors also found that the crime was an act of domestic violence, that it was done within earshot of minor children and that the crime affected other family members, allowing Harthcock to go beyond the range of 10.3 to 18.3 years.
His attorney said he will appeal on grounds that there was insufficient evidence and a prosecutor’s question may have tainted the jury.
Prosecutors said Alejandre smashed his wife’s skull with a rifle butt during an argument the night of June 1, 2017, and then dragged her body to the backyard, where he burned in a makeshift pit the family used to burn garbage.
His sister, niece and brother pleaded for Harthcock to show mercy to Alejandre, whom they described as a loving family man who only killed his wife because he was drunk.
“I think that maybe if he was well, if he had not been under the influence, what had happened would never have happened,” Gerardo Alejandre wrote in a letter that was read in court by Deyci Alejandre, Alejandre’s niece.
Deyci Alejandre said the case should have been investigated more thoroughly to rule out other possible suspects, as she questioned how a lone man could have done all that in the course of one night.
Mireya Alejandre-Gonzalez, Alejandre’s daughter, thanked the court and others for helping her and her siblings, and said she wished the events of that night had never happened.
“We miss (our parents) nearly every single day,” Alejandre-Gonzalez said. “We wish things would be back the way they were.”
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brooke Wright asked Harthcock to sentence Alejandre to more than 36 years, noting that Alejandre’s actions demanded more than a standard sentence.
“Nothing we do today is going to bring back Maria and help her family, but we have to take a stand to show that such conduct is not acceptable,” Wright said.
Speaking through an interpreter, Alejandre asked that God grant peace to all who were there, as well as the whole world.
Alejandre’s attorney, Aaron Dalan, argued that a prosecutor’s question as to whether Alejandre spoke to detectives after his arrest possibly tainted the jury. He also said prosecutors failed to provide sufficient evidence that Alejandre committed the crime.
“There was no reason for my client to do this intentionally,” Dalan said. “The state never showed a reason why Alejandre did it, and their expert who reconstructed the scene could not explain it.”
After Harthcock rejected that motion, Dalan asked that the judge give Alejandre the lowest possible sentence allowed.
But Harthcock said that while Alejandre showed that he was not past redemption, the aggravating factors warranted a stiffer sentence than the standard range. She specifically noted the fact that Alejandre killed Gonzalez-Castillo while their children slept, and Alejandre-Gonzalez and her brother had to see their mother’s remains burning in the pit.
I’m sure it will haunt them for the rest of their lives,” Harthcock told Alejandre. “It will probably haunt the jurors, and it will haunt me.”