April 23, 2024
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By Ema Rose Schumer

A Colleton County jury found her mother guilty of murder on Sept. 1. The verdict stated that they had shown a disregard for her life by leaving her for several hours in the car under the South Carolina sun.

Cristina Pangalangan died from heatstroke in a Volkswagen that was parked near a home on Lowcountry Highway, Colleton County, on August 5, 2019.

Rita Pangalangan, her boyfriend Larry Eugene King Jr. and the teenager were put in the backseat of the vehicle while high on methamphetamine, the prosecutor said.

Cristina was confined to her wheelchair due to cerebral palsy. She was unable to open the door of her car or call for assistance due to cerebral palsy. The 13-year old, who loved cartoons and swimming in the pool, was able to feel emotions ranging from joy to pain.

After almost two-and-ahalf hours of deliberation, the jury convicted both parties for murder and unlawful conduct towards a child. Clifton Newman, a Circuit Judge in the District of Columbia, sentenced her to 37 years behind bars. He gave King 32 years. In South Carolina, murder carries with it a minimum mandatory sentence of 30 years.

Newman, before delivering his sentence, said: “It is not the traditional form of murder.” It’s not that you just pull out a gun, and shoot someone. Your conduct was reckless enough to constitute a deliberate disregard for life. “And it is murder.”

But that is not the case here, when there’s total disregard for an innocent child. “Considering the fact that you two were in the car a number of times, without saving this child’s or contributing to their death.”

King’s surveillance video captured the five hours Cristina spent baking in her car. Fourteenth Circuit Attorney Duffie Stone who personally prosecuted both defendants, decided to show the whole footage to the jury.

The incident began at 11:15 am when King put Cristina in the car and then walked to his porch. He testified that King told Pangalangan she should leave after learning of her unfaithfulness. The mother, however, did not go. They spoke for a long time. Later, they hugged each other and kissed. They also swung in a porch swing.

Cristina was sitting in her car, braving the summer heat of South Carolina.

One hour later, the mother went to check on her child. It wasn’t until after 3 pm that she returned to her car. She found it locked when she returned. Pangalangan, King and their team spent nearly an hour searching for another set of keys instead of smashing a window. They returned to find Cristina dead.

The state cited the South Carolina law that a voluntary intoxication or drug use is not a valid legal defense. According to South Carolina law, voluntary intoxication and drug use are not valid legal defenses.

A woman who had twice been named Colleton County Teacher of the Year was brought down by a murder conviction. Elizabeth Pangalangan, one of Rita Pangalangan’s daughters, said that Rita was dedicated to Cristina, and worked extra to help her after Cristina’s husband left. Rita helped Cristina compete in a special Olympics competition, took her to Disney and was saving up to buy her a wheelchair-accessible van.

“Oh my god! Pangalangan collapsed in her chair, saying “Oh my God!” after hearing the verdict of guilty. She said “I love” to both of her daughters who were sitting behind her.

She told the Judge before she was sentenced, “Nobody loves Cristina as much as I do.” “I cannot believe that I was found guilty of murder.” This wasn’t murder. “It was not murder.

Newman replied that the law states otherwise.

The judge said, “I think your conduct was even worse than Mr. King’s.”

As well as being known as premeditation, murder is the act of killing someone with malicious intent. The malice may be implied or expressed.

In his instructions to the jury, the judge cited State V. Mouzon. This was a 1957 murder conviction that had been upheld by the S.C. Supreme Court after an appeal. It was found by the court that conduct so reckless or wanton that it indicates a general disregard of human life and a depraved mind can infer malice.

According to the testimony of an expert called by state, Cristina’s body temperature inside reached 110 degrees while in a vehicle that was feeling like it had risen above 135 degrees. Photos of the crime scene that were entered as evidence showed blisters and burned on Cristina’s skin. Her diaper had been soiled.

Ali Gadley, an agent with the State Law Enforcement Division testified in court that Cristina’s dead body was lying on high grass when she first arrived. Rita Pangalangan, who was in the home at the time of the incident was on the phone to 911 while King was out. Later, the mother told investigators that Cristina was left in the vehicle to fetch cigarettes and when she returned the car had been locked.

Both the state and the defense acknowledged that they had left the teenager in a vehicle for over five hours and she was killed as a direct result. They disagreed on what it meant in law.

Stone, Stone’s solicitor, said to the jury that there is no doubt about what occurred on the day. What do you call this? Stone questioned, “What is it?”

The jury could choose between a variety of charges, including murder, criminal conspiracy or unlawful conduct towards a child.

Stone argued that Pangalangan King and their actions showed implied malice which is a “wanton or reckless disregard of human life”.

Both the state and the defense acknowledged that they had left the teenager in a vehicle for over five hours and she was killed as a direct result. They disagreed on what it meant in law.

Stone, Stone’s solicitor, said to the jury that there is no doubt about what occurred on the day. What do you call this? Stone asked, “What is it?”

The jury could choose between a variety of charges, including murder, criminal conspiracy or unlawful conduct towards a child.

Stone argued that Pangalangan’s and King’s actions showed implied malice – “a reckless or wanton disregard for the life of human beings” – through their actions.

Stone asked the jury, “Did they even think about it?” They were both interested in one another. They were also interested in spending time together, kissing each other, and having sex.

The judge challenged the jury to find a time when the defendants showed any concern for Cristina during the five-hour period they kept her in the car.

He said, “You will not find it because there is none.”

Pangalangan King and their lawyers were acquitted of the criminal conspiracy charge but found guilty for murder, unlawful conduct and deception.

Dayne Philips, Pangalangan’s lawyer, has repeatedly said that “this case involves a number of different things, but not murder.”

He said that he had three children. The attorney reminded the jury to keep their emotions separate from their analysis of evidence. The seven males and five females on the jury were warned that the State was trying to arouse their emotions.

They want this murder conviction very badly. Phillips, in reference to the media present, said: “They got cameras. This is their spotlight.” They want to see you angry, using emotion.

He called his client to appear before them. He said, “This woman’s entire life is at stake.” A diminutive 53-year old woman stood before the twelve jurors. This woman is free.

Gil Gatch, King’s lawyer, claimed that after his client had put the child into the car, and driven to his home, King relinquished responsibility for the child. Jurors disagreed.

Before sentencing, King said, “I want to apologize both to the Court and to Cristina’s family.” “Drugs are a killer and I know that.”

Newman stated, “If it weren’t for the methamphetamine, neither of you two would be here.” You all took those decisions.

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