Convicted of: Second Degree Murder
Sentence: 19 to life
Years Served: 18
Cost to Taxpayer: $810,000
On July 21, 1990, Dolores Macias’ children (Melody Alvarez, age four and Gilbert Alvarez, age five) and her sister Olivia Orozco’s daughter (Lynette Orozco, age four) were playing outside in a small swimming pool in the backyard of Olivia’s home. While Olivia and Dolores were inside the house, Melody came inside and told them Lynette was “playing dead” and had mucous coming out of her mouth. Olivia and Macias ran outside to the swimming pool and found Gilbert holding Lynette in the pool. Dolores attempted CPR while Olivia phoned 911.
A week after the incident, after undergoing medical treatment, Lynette was pronounced dead. The medical examiner who performed the autopsy determined that the cause of death was brain damage resulting from the drowning. Lynette’s death was classified as an accidental homicide because, as the police reported, another child likely held Lynette’s face underwater.
As a result of the incident, Macias’ children were removed from her custody and placed in the care of their paternal grandmother – Sara Alvarez . Almost two years after Sara obtained custody of the children, a six-year-old Melody told her she dreamt about Lynette a lot and indicated that, in her dreams, Dolores drowned Lynette. Sara immediately reported Melody’s account of Lynette’s death to a caseworker with the Department of Children’s Services and, on January 3, 1994, Dolores was charged with Lynette’s murder.
The case proceeded to trial where Melody testified that Delores drowned Lynette. Gilbert testified in a similar manner. Olivia and Dolores both testified they were inside Olivia’s house when Melody ran in and said Lynette was pretending she was dead. Dolores was convicted despite the fact that Olivia – the prosecution’s only adult witness and the mother of the victim – testified that Dolores was in the house with her when Lynette drowned. Olivia stands by her testimony and to this day knows Dolores is innocent.
Given the known problems with child testimony and the susceptibility of children to fabricating stories, the California Innocence Project began an investigation into Dolores’ claim she was innocent several years ago. During our investigation, we spoke with Melody and Gilbert (who were then in their late teens) as well as their brother, Frankie. All of the children stated Dolores did not drown Lynette. The children stated that they testified falsely at Dolores’ trial. They were angry with their mother and felt abandoned by her when she lost custody of them. They also wanted to protect each other from responsibility for the death.
Years after Dolores’ conviction, Frankie, Gilbert, and Melody took the stand in front of a Los Angeles Superior Court judge and testified they lied during the original trial and that their mother was not involved in the drowning. Frankie testified that his grandmother, Sara, repeatedly discussed the drowning with him and that these discussions led to his false testimony against his mother. Gilbert likewise stated that Sara manipulated him into implicating his mother. “My grandma was telling me what to say when I was younger,” he claimed. Melody said she had no memory of her mother drowning Lynette, but she did recall fighting with Lynette in the pool at the time of the drowning. Unfortunately, the judge found the children’s original trial testimony to be more persuasive than their recantations.
It truly strains the bounds of reason to believe a mother, Olivia, would cover for her murderous sister’s actions for all these years. It also strains the bounds of reason to believe that Dolores’ children would recant their trial testimony if it was not, in fact, the truth. Dolores’ avenues for relief in the courts are closed. Neither will she likely be paroled because she refuses to admit she drowned Lynette. Dolores will likely spend the rest of her life in prison for a crime she did not commit if not granted clemency.
>>Read the next story, Rodney Patrick McNeal.