"Patrick was gone a lot. He'd be home two months, then he'd be out at sea for six. This went on and on, and basically I was having to play a mother-father role for my children. It was difficult. We were new to the area, didn't know how to get around. There were tensions at home. And then, when Mario was 12, when he started into puberty, he started to change.
"He'd always been a shy, quiet child. He was slow to make friends, but when he made them he was very close with them. He was affectionate. And then it all changed. He became more and more withdrawn. He kept to himself. He wouldn't talk. His teachers at school noticed the change, and they suggested our family go to counseling. But Mario wouldn't open up. He wouldn't talk. So we tried sending him to therapy alone. But he still wouldn't talk. The counselors couldn't get him to talk about what was bothering him.
"I've laid awake many nights now since he died, thinking about that time. It is the hardest thing. I think maybe I should have tried harder. I know now what was probably bothering him. Why he had all that anger and hurt locked up inside him. Since he died, members of my family told me something. They told me that when Mario was little, when I sometimes went to Tijuana to visit my family, and I'd leave him with them for a little while, the same man who raped me sexually abused Mario.
"I can't go back and change that. But I understand now why he was so quiet. I just wish I'd tried harder to get him into counseling. He just refused to go. He became more rebellious, wouldn't listen to me or his father. He started telling Patrick, 'Don't tell me what to do. You're not my real father.'
"When he was 16 he met this girl. I didn't care for her or her family. Somehow Mario and this girl decided they were going to get married. When I told them I was opposed to it, they ran off. The girl's family helped them run off down to Amarillo, Texas. I guess it was at this time that Mario really started looking for his father. He thought Jerry was his father, and he somehow got in touch with him in San Diego. But Jerry was having problems of his own and couldn't help. He told Mario he couldn't help him. Mario was rejected by the man who he thought was his father.
"I finally tracked Mario down in Amarillo and talked to him. I convinced him to come home. Maybe I should have let him be.
"When he got home, things got worse. He started hanging out with people I maybe didn't agree with. Things between me and Patrick were bad. One day, Patrick had enough of the whole situation and walked away. Mario started acting real nasty to me, real mean. He had no respect for me, back-talked to me in front of his friends. I couldn't take it anymore. I told him that if he didn't straighten up, he'd have to move out. He did. Moved in with friends. That's when I lost him the first time. And after that I started losing him again and again, a little bit more each time until I lost him for good the night he died."
Mario moved out in February 1991. On July 29, 1991, he and two accomplices beat a Navy cook to death with a steel pipe while he slept. The cook's pregnant wife had promised to pay Mario $5000 for the killing. She told Mario that her husband beat and raped her and had threatened to cut the baby out of her stomach. Minutes after the murder, she rolled around in her husband's blood to make it look as if she had lain beside him during the attack. She told police that burglars had killed her husband. One week later she married another man.
In September 1991, police arrested Mario, his two teenage accomplices, the wife, and her new husband. Of the six defendants, only Mario and the wife were charged with first-degree murder. She did not confess and received a sentence of life plus 20 years. Mario confessed, and although he had no prior record and was only 19 years old at the time of the murder, he received a sentence of death by lethal injection.
"I could not believe it when I stood there in the courtroom that day when the judge announced the sentence," Silvia remembers. "It was like a black cloud came down around me. My whole world ended. I managed to get up and walk outside the courtroom. I made it a little ways. This big black cloud just came down around me. I passed out."
Silvia spent $3000 on Mario's defense. It was the most she could afford from what she earned cleaning houses. She has never maintained his innocence but has all along said his sentence was unfair. Other people agreed. As Mario's case wound through the appeals process, the Mexican government protested that Virginia authorities had violated an international treaty signed by the U.S. in 1963. The treaty provided that, if arrested, all foreign nationals be allowed to contact their embassy. Virginia authorities never notified Mario, a Mexican citizen, of this right. If the Mexican government had only known about his arrest, Mexican diplomats argued, they could have provided for a better defense of Mario's case. Even conservative Senator Jesse Helms agreed. As head of the Foreign Relations Committee, he wrote to Virginia Governor George Allen, asking for clemency. At one point the Mexican government guaranteed a cell for Mario in a Mexican prison if Governor Allen would commute Mario's sentence to life without parole. Governor Allen was unswayed. He denied Mario clemency, saying that the State of Virginia had every right to deal as it saw fit with crimes committed within its borders.