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Three life sentences in slaying of officer

Paula Gutierrez, convicted for her role in a Tampa officer's death, gets three life sentences.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
Published June 24, 2003

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[Times photo: Ken Helle]
Paula Gutierrez told the judge she was afraid of her boyfriend.
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TAMPA - Stoical through much of her trial last month, Paula Gutierrez shook with sobs Monday as she begged a Hillsborough judge for mercy.

"I'm not a cold-hearted murderer," Gutierrez, 26, said in a choked voice.

For her role in the killing of Tampa police Officer Lois Marrero, Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett sentenced Gutierrez to life in prison.

It was no surprise, since her conviction last month for first-degree felony murder requires that sentence under Florida law.

But Gutierrez's emotionally charged sentencing hearing Monday became a forum for both sides to vent what had been in their hearts for months.

For those who loved Marrero, it was a chance to look Gutierrez squarely in the eye and tell her how she had hurt them. And how they held her accountable for Marrero's death on July 6, 2001.

"Half of me died that day," said Mickie Mashburn, a Tampa detective who was Marrero's domestic partner for 12 years. "I don't think my life will ever be the same."

On that July morning, Gutierrez and her boyfriend, Nestor DeJesus, woke up broke. He was out of a job. They were behind on their car payments. They robbed a Bank of America in South Tampa and fled. After DeJesus gunned down the pursuing Tampa officer, he and Gutierrez holed up with a hostage at the Crossings Apartments.

DeJesus killed himself. Gutierrez surrendered and was convicted last month of felony murder, armed robbery and armed burglary of a dwelling.

From Gutierrez and her supporters Monday, there was this plea: View her not a monster, but as a weak young woman led astray.

Defense attorney DeeAnn Athan characterized Gutierrez as the brutalized pawn of DeJesus, calling her a "textbook case" of a battered woman savagely beaten and psychologically tormented.

"She knew the violence that Nestor DeJesus was capable of," Athan said.

Gutierrez told the judge Monday she feared DeJesus would kill her if she tried to leave him. "I didn't understand my options," she said, adding, "Maybe I should have let him kill me that day."

Mashburn told Gutierrez that as a detective who investigated domestic violence cases, she knew the signs of a woman dominated by domestic abuse and that Gutierrez didn't fit the profile.

If so, Mashburn said, DeJesus would have killed Gutierrez before killing himself.

"There's no doubt in my mind she knew exactly what she was doing," Mashburn said.

Brenda Marrero, the slain officer's sister, said her sister had been counting down the days toward retirement. She had been considering law school.

The officer's last e-mail to her sister had ended with the words: "I love you. Be safe. Don't ever let your guard down."

Brenda Marrero said her sister was proud of her status as one of the top-ranking Hispanic women at the Police Department. "You and Nestor turned her into a statistic of another kind," she told Gutierrez.

She said she had locked eyes with Gutierrez during the trial and saw no remorse. She wished Gutierrez years of sorrow and grief. She wished Gutierrez's days would be as lonely as hers.

But Gutierrez's mother, Melba Henao, said her daughter was a victim of DeJesus, whom she didn't have the strength to leave.

Her face distorted by grief, Henao turned to Marrero's family and showed them her hands. She had had a hard life, she said in Spanish. She had never asked for luxury, she said.

While the murder conviction brought an automatic term of life without parole, the judge had the option of giving Gutierrez lighter sentences on the other charges. He gave her three life terms.

Afterward, Brenda Marrero said, "We just believe Paula is rotten at the core." But Gutierrez's punishment brought little satisfaction. "There's absolutely no pleasure, no happiness in any of this."

Athan, the defense attorney, plans to appeal. She said she had tried to prepare Gutierrez for what might happen at the sentencing.

"I told her, you think about hearing "three lifetimes,"' Athan said. "I think she's as mentally prepared as anyone can be."

- Christopher Goffard can be reached at 813 226-3337 or goffard@sptimes.com

[Last modified June 24, 2003, 01:47:56]


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