Appellate court upholds murder convictions for married couple who beat foster child to death

Crime Watch

Carla Torres

Alberto Garcia
Serenity Gandara

FRESNO, Calif. (KGET) — An appellate court has upheld the murder convictions of a Bakersfield couple who beat a 3-year-old foster child to death and left her body in their home as they fled to Mexico.

Carla Torres, 35, and Alberto Garcia, 36, will continue to serve life terms in prison in the killing of Serenity Gandara.

Torres is up for parole in 2035, Garcia in 2026.

In a joint appeal, Torres and Garcia argued Superior Court Judge John R. Brownlee committed errors in instructions he gave to the jury during their 2016 trial.

The Fifth District Court of Appeal, however, said in an opinion filed Wednesday that the defendants never objected to the instructions during trial and, upon review, Brownlee committed no errors.

“We have reviewed the instant challenges to the instructions given in this case, to determine whether the defendants’ substantial rights were infringed by an error,” Associate Justice M. Bruce Smith wrote in the opinion.

“We conclude there was either no error or any error did not affect the defendants’ substantial rights,” he wrote. “In turn, all the claims are rejected.”

The couple were each found guilty of second-degree murder and other charges in Serenity’s death. Each testified at trial and blamed the other for the girl’s extensive injuries.

Serenity suffered a lacerated spleen, pancreas and stomach during at least two beatings on July 17, 2010. A pathologist testified during trial that the ruptured organs were fatal injuries, but Serenity also suffered a skull fracture shortly before death.

Serenity and her brother, Isaiah, 4 at the time of the killing, had lived with Torres and Garcia for two years.

Like Serenity, Isaiah’s body was covered in bruises and scars when he was found abandoned with Serenity’s body in the couple’s southwest Bakersfield home. The injuries to the children indicated abuse that occurred over months, if not years, authorities said.

Torres and Garcia fled to Mexico, where they were apprehended by Mexican authorities in 2012. They fought extradition, but were returned to the U.S. in 2014 and convicted two years later.

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