AUSTIN (KXAN) - The friends and family of convicted killer Areli Escobar got their opportunity on Wednesday to give the testimony they hope will save his life.
"He was always there for me, a role model to me. I love him. He's my brother," said Nancy Escobar, Areli's 21-year-old sister told the jury that's deciding whether Areli Escobar should live or die.
Escobar, 32, was convicted Friday of capital murder in the stabbing death and rape of 17-year-old mother Bianca Maldonado. Jurors deliberated on two hours before handing down the verdict. The jury can either sentenced him to death or to life in prison without parole.
Escobar broke into Maldonado's Decker Lane apartment while she and her then-1-year-old son were home alone on May 31, 2009. The baby was hurt in the attack but survived.
Taking occasional glances towards the jury box, Nancy Escobar raved about the brother she said assisted her in raising her child, who was a good family man, and was trying to get back on his feet and find a job.
Santos Escobar, the killer's younger brother who went off to college in California on a scholarship, testified his brother provided an example and very helpful in helping him find educational success.
His voice began to crack as he looked at a picture of his LBJ high school graduation day showing his family, Areli included.
"I always knew Areli was there for me and that was an important message," said Santos Escobar while fighting back tears.
"I still don't think he did it," said another sister when asked if she thought her brother was capable of brutally murdering Maldonado.
Just a day earlier, the jury heard testimony from police officers and other people close to Escobar who said he was involved in gang activity, abusive towards his wife, and had several previous run-ins with the law.
Relatives of Escobar's estranged wife, Angelica Trevino, also testified on behalf of the killer.
"Even though they were separated, he is still my son-in-law," said Trevino's mother.
When asked if Areli deserved all the blame for the problems in his marriage, sister-in-law Jessica Silva said, "No, my sister is no angel."
A forensic psychologist was also called to the stand by the defense and testified about statistics that suggest Escobar would not be a threat to commit more violence in the prison population.
Dr. Matthew Ferrara also spoke about Escobar's possible frame of mind during the murder.
"He knew the difference between right and wrong, but was tremendously enraged at Zoe. He took out what he felt for Zoe on Maldonado," said Ferrara who also said that Escobar's use of alcohol and cocaine combine with psychosis helped contribute to his rage.
The state rested its case on Tuesday.
Maldonado's body was found early that morning by her sister, Dania, now 16, and mother, Jacqueline Hernandez, after they returned home from working a paper delivery route.
Her baby was found lying face down at his mother's feet. The boy was in the room when his mother was killed but survived.
During trial-phase testimony, Maldonado's sister Dania said that she and her mother discovered the grim scene after returning home after delivering newspapers early on the morning of the murder.
Dania said she opened the apartment door on the day of the murder, took tamales they'd bought into the kitchen. She looked into the living room and saw the sofa cushions and walls covered in blood. By then, her mother headed toward a body that was lying on the floor.
Dania said her mom checked the body for a pulse. Bianca's 1-year-old son was face down and unconscious on a rug close to Bianca's feet, Dania testified.
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