SAN JOSE — On the night he learned his daughter’s charred body had been found in a car trunk near Yosemite National Park, a despondent Jose “Pepe” Pelosso set off to throw himself in front of a freight train.
The burly cattle rancher tearfully recounted his suicidal thoughts as he testified Thursday in the death penalty phase of Cary Stayner’s trial for murdering his daughter Silvina and two family friends on a trip to the park three years ago.
Pelosso and his wife, Raquel, testified about the impact the crime has had on their lives since they temporarily uprooted to California in February 1999 in the hopes of finding their daughter alive after she vanished.
“A person who’s never had the fortune to have a child will never ... know what it’s like to lose one,” Jose Pelosso told jurors. “It’s a pain that doesn’t just hurt a person physically or on the inside. It also hurts down to a person’s soul.”
The courtroom, a forum most recently of psychiatric opinions about Stayner’s sanity, became an emotional stage on the day jurors were told that Stayner’s life is in their hands. They are expected to hear weeks of testimony before deciding whether Stayner gets life in prison or goes to death row.
The same panel convicted Stayner, 41, last month of murdering Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juli, 15, both of Eureka, and Pelosso, 16, of Argentina. It found him sane Monday.
Jurors tried to suppress tears as family members of the victims sobbed. On the other side of the courtroom, Stayner cried occasionally and his lead lawyer broke down during her opening statement.
The emotional climax came as Pepe Pelosso took the stand a short distance from Stayner.