convicted killer: “I did not do this. I know who did, but . . .”
prosecutor: “10 years would be an insult”
stepfather: “she was happy when she was on drugs”
BISBEE – Fldaa “Elda” Meraz, now 22, was sentenced Monday morning to a term of 16 years in prison for killing 25-year old Alexandria “Ali” Eastman in a Sierra Vista mobile home park on July 28, 2015.
Testimony during Meraz’s November 2016 trial indicated that Eastman died of a single shot fired through the heart, with one witness saying Meraz fired the “house gun” from a distance of 4-5 feet away.
At least six people – all admitted users of illicit drugs – were in the mobile home at the moment of Ali Eastman’s death. Key witness George Ballou died before trial but hisearlier recorded testimonyidentified Elda Meraz as almost certainly the shooter.
The gun was never found, and no gunshot residue was found on Meraz’ hands or clothing.
At trial, the prosecution presented testimony suggesting that Meraz – recently returned from a Mexican drug rehab center – was unhappy about Eastman’s relationship with Fabian Borquez-Martinez, father of a child with Meraz.
And, “Ali was a snitch”, Deputy County Attorney Lori Zucco told the jury – another possible reason that drug-using Meraz, whose boyfriend was selling drugs – might have killed her. Zucco noted that the state did not have to prove motive for the killing but she believed that the reason was jealousy.
On the last day of trial Meraz blurted out “I didn’t shoot her” and “Ali was my friend”. Superior Court judge James Conlogue had her removed from the courtroom. She was observing by video from jail when the verdict was announced.
The jury deliberated for only an hour – after 6 days of trial – and found Meraz not guilty of first-degree murder, but guilty of second-degree.
At the sentencing hearing Monday, more than two months after the jury’s verdict, Meraz’ court-appointed attorney argued that his client’s troubled life was in itself a mitigating factor and asked the court to sentence her to 10 years in prison. “This court,” said Eric Manch, “has the opportunity not to ruin another life.”
Zucco countered that assuming the presumptive 16-year term, Meraz will be 38 when released from prison – young enough to start another family. A 10-year sentence, said Zucco, would be an insult.
Conlogue noted he had been there throughout the trial, had heard all of the testimony. The jury’s verdict of second degree murder, he said, was supported by the evidence.
Conlogue agreed that Meraz had a “difficult life beginning at birth”. But, he said, the aggravating circumstances far outweigh any mitigating circumstances. The victim “saw this coming” he said. “She held up her hand and the bullet went through her hand first.”
Conlogue then imposed the imprisonment requested by the state with credit for 546 days already served in jail.
Just before Judge Conlogue pronounced sentence, Annette Eastman – Ali’s mother – addressed the court and said she was at a loss for words, but some words that came to her were not appropriate for court.
The victim’s mother had questions she wanted to ask Ms Meraz, things she wanted to say to her.
“What did you think you would gain by killing Ali?” Her daughter, she said, made some bad choices but she didn’t deserve to die like this. “I want you to be sorry.”
Eastman noted that death scene and autopsy photos of one’s child is something a mother should never have to see.
Meraz, who had been silent during the sentencing hearing, then spoke up. “I did not do this, it wasn’t me. I know who did it but I’m not saying.”
At the conclusion of Monday’s sentencing hearing Elda Meraz asked directly of Judge Conlogue, “How do I file an appeal?”
a “drug baby”, troubled childhood and youth, adoptive parents and few resources
At Elda Meraz’ sentencing hearing adoptive mother Sylvia Valenzuela testified that she and her husband, Victor Siquieros, informally adopted Elda Meraz when she was 9 months old.
She was born to a girlfriend of Valenzuela’s brother, an addict-mother who abused alcohol and cocaine during her pregnancy. The mother gave the child away. A doctor later described Elda as a “drug baby”.
Elda cried a lot and was scared, said Valenzuela about the toddler. At elementary school in Huachuca City, Elda had trouble understanding, got frustrated and angry. Other girls made fun of her.
By junior high, the parents were taking her to SEAHBS and A.C.T.S. for drug abuse problems and bi-polar disorder. They were told Elda was “SMI” – Severely Mentally Ill. “We didn’t know,” said Sylvia Valenzuela from the witness stand. “We didn’t get any help until she was 14.”
Stepfather Victor Siqueiros told the court, “She was born with it. The doctor told us.” Siqueiros said Elda was always sweet to him but he worked a lot, 12-hour days, and the girl had many arguments with his wife, Sylvia.
When he finally got health insurance, Siqueiros took Elda to doctors and behavioral health service providers. He said CPS took her away – put her in treatment for a year in Phoenix – then suddenly she was given back to them.
She was better for awhile, said Siquieros, talking about finishing her high school education and the future. But then there was alcohol, and drugs, and Fabian.
“We didn’t want Fabian [Borquez-Martinez] to be around her, ” testified Siquieros. Fabian started selling drugs from the trailer. “That trailer was Elda’s, not his. Elda’s mother sent her money for that trailer.”
In the spring of 2015 Elda Meraz voluntarily entered a religion-based drug abuse treatment program in Agua Prieta, Mexico. She stayed for two months but wanted to return to her baby, and Fabian.
And, her stepfather says, “Elda was happy when she was on drugs. And, street drugs,” said Siquieros, “worked better for her than her prescriptions.”
Attorney Manch told Judge Conlogue at Monday’s hearing, “I only wish the resources were adequate to address [Elda’s] drug problems, and Fabian’s.”
Ten years in prison is appropriate, Manch argued. “She’ll be a different person then, he said. Her life is not over. She can continue school. She is fortunate to have family.”
But Elda Meraz is not amenable to treatment, said prosecutor Zucco at Monday’s sentencing. “She’s had repeated contact with law enforcement since age 13. She’s not expressed any remorse for shooting Ali. And, Meraz is a danger to our community.”
Contact David M Morgan at editor@CochiseCountyRecord.com and 520-236-4051
EDITOR’S NOTE: Fabian Borquez-Martinez is serving a 6-year prison sentence for charges stemming from the day of the shooting, including assaulting Elda Meraz, tampering with evidence and having possession of a gun while being a prohibited possessor of a weapon. Borquez-Martinez was not called to testify at Elda Meraz’ trial.
EDITOR’S NOTE: At a chance meeting at the CCSO jail video visitation center in Bisbee, shortly after Meraz’ arrest, Sylvia Valenzuela told this reporter that “Elda” Meraz’ birth certificate contained simple spelling or tying errors which resulted in a legal first name of Fldaa.