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The Sober Truth

A woman thought she found a safe place to get help for addiction, but she didn't know she'd fall in love -- and she didn't know he would kill her

Produced by James Stolz

As September 8, 2014 dawns over the San Gabriel Mountains, a morning of dread and expectation -- a day they have waited for -- finally begins for Hector Mendez and his wife of 34 years, Jara.

"All this time I have been asking, 'what happened, what happened,'" said Jara Mendez told "48 Hours" correspondent Maureen Maher.

"We promised justice for Karla," said Hector Mendez.

karlabrada1280.jpg
Karla Mendez Brada
Jaroslava Mendez

Karla Mendez Brada was their daughter.

"She didn't deserve this. No one had the right to take her life" said Jara.

Karla was Sasha Mendez' big sister and Jenny Rodriguez' best friend. They are bound together in grief and love for the once vibrant young woman.

"Eric Earle didn't just take a life. He ruined lives," said Sasha.

"What was the best thing about her for you?" Maher asked Jara.

"Oh, her hug. She hugged me like no other daughter does," she replied in tears. "I dream about her, you know. And I can't wait to go to sleep, so maybe she'll come up again."

Dreams are a refuge, the only place this mother can find her child. Police say Karla was beaten, then suffocated, just two days before her 32nd birthday.

"After three long years -- we're finally getting our day," said Sasha.

Twenty miles northwest of Los Angeles, in the working class suburb of San Fernando, a jury is set to hear the case, and to listen to a story that is about much more than murder.

Eric Earle, 43, faces life in prison, charged with killing Karla -- his fiancée -- on Sept. 1, 2011. But Earle claims it was an accident -- that he would never kill the woman he was in love with.

Defense attorney David Arredondo: Did you find her to be attractive?

Eric Earle: Yes.

Arredondo: Beautiful even?

Earle: Yes.

Arredondo: And-- you-- you-- you began to talk, correct?

Judge: You wanna a tissue, sir?

Earle [crying]: I loved her.

It was a six-month roller coaster romance. But it never really had a chance, because both Eric Earle and Karla had another love.

Prosecutor Elena Abramson: Sir, when you drink too much vodka, you get angry and belligerent and nasty, correct?

Eric Earle: Yes.

Deputy District Attorney Elena Abramson knows it was alcohol that fueled this fire.

"When he was under the influence of alcohol, he was a very abusive person. And he would attack anyone," said Abramson.

Eric Earle: Alcohol does that to me. Yes.

About four percent of Americans struggle with alcohol dependence and, increasingly, they look less like Eric Earle and more like Karla.

"I noticed that women were drinking more and more all around me," said Gabrielle Glaser, the author of "Her Best Kept Secret".

While writing her book, Glaser first learned about Karla's story. The book, published by Simon & Schuster, a division of CBS, focuses on the increasing number of women using alcohol.

"Karla was a fun-loving young woman. She was very outgoing ... She was musical," Glaser told Maher. "Her parents were these lovely artistic people. ...And they are nothing but love. The sun really rose and set on Karla for both those parents."

"They were very close," Maher noted.

"If they had a flaw at all ... they maybe were unwilling to see that their daughter had a secret side," said Glaser.

Sasha says her sister knew how to have fun.

"I was very disciplined," she explained, "where as you know, my sister Karla was more the wild child. She was the free spirit."

"She had friends everywhere ... I mean she makes you feel welcomed," said Rodriguez.

In 2008 the "wild child" turned 29. She was still living at home and making good money at a medical supply company. But it wasn't until she crashed her car that friends and family found out Karla had spent years hiding serious problems with drugs and alcohol.

"And that's when I started to understand, 'OK, this is really bad," said Rodriguez.

"Did she acknowledge that she had a problem?" Maher asked Sasha.

"Yes," she sighed. "She kinda sat there and said, 'You guys have no idea how long I've struggled with this.'"

It was also a wake-up call for Karla's parents.

At the scene of her crash, Karla got a ticket for DUI, and with family support, checked into rehab for a month. She started to attend meetings of two separate organizations, Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, AA.

"She told me she wants to stop, she doesn't want to drink anymore," Hector told Maher.

Progress came slowly for Karla. The feisty young woman with so many friends was still battling her demons. But in the spring of 2009, she made a big move. She got her own place on a quiet street in Santa Clarita, 20 miles away from her family's watchful eye.

"She's sober when she moves out," said Glaser.

Asked where Karla got the money to buy the condo, Glaser said, "She worked and saved."

Karla was now a young woman on her own for the very first time. But soon there were signs she was slipping off the wagon of sobriety.

"I just was so mad at her for allowing it again," said Sasha, who was worried for her sister's safety.

With loved ones by her side, Karla was set on kicking her habit once and for all. In December 2010, she voluntarily entered rehab for a second time at Action Family Counseling.

"I remember telling her, you know, 'That's your wake-up call' you know? If you don't take advantage of this second chance, you're never gonna have another chance," Sasha told Maher.

As part of that new program Karla would be bussed to "The Recovery Room" for daily meetings of both NA and AA -- self-help support groups for addicts trying to kick the habit.

"I mean I thought it was a good thing," said Jara.

AA calls itself "a fellowship" where everyone looking for sobriety is welcome. Anonymous means you can reveal as much, or as little about yourself as you choose.

"All I really knew was that ... people go there to support each other and to stay sober," said Sasha.

It was here that Karla, newly sober and emotionally fragile, met Eric Earle.

Eric Earle: I wanted to stop drinking. I wanted to better my life.

Eric Earle has been in and out of AA for 20 years. This time, he was there voluntarily. Other times, he had been mandated by the justice system. He had the famous "12 Steps" lingo, about the path to and principles of sobriety, down cold. Soon he and Karla were going to meetings together.

Defense attorney David Arredondo: What were your feelings towards her during this time.

Eric Earle: I was falling in love with her.

Arredondo: Did you begin to spend some time with her?

Earle: Every day.

Then on Aug. 5, 2011, a call to 911 was made by Tonia Walsh from Karla's home:

911 Dispatcher: 911. Are you reporting an emergency?

Tonia Walsh: Yes, I am. I'm at my friend's house and her boyfriend just beat the sh-- out of her. ... He won't leave. He's drunk.

911 Dispatcher: Do you know his name?

Tonia Walsh: Eric Earle.

"Karla basically told Tonia that the defendant had beaten her. That she had never been beaten so badly in her life," said Abramson told Maher.

Just three-and-a-half weeks after her friend placed that 911 call, Karla was dead.

"I knew that he killed her. I knew that," said Jara.

But it was what was revealed later about Earle's past that Karla's parents found even more devastating.

"Were you shocked by his criminal background?" Maher asked Jara.

"Absolutely," she replied.

"She didn't know they were ex-cons. They're under no obligation to tell her," said Glaser.

ERIC AND KARLA

When Eric Earle met Karla Mendez Brada, he was spending his nights on the grounds of a rundown, sober-living facility.

Prosecutor Elena Abramson: At that time you were living in a trailer with three other men?

Eric Earle: Yes.

Eden Ministries houses parolees from prison alongside other men living day to day, on the condition that they stay sober.

Prosecutor Elena Abramson: And you weren't living with women, right?

Eric Earle: Yes.

Every day Eric Earle, an under-employed electrician and a chronic alcoholic, was shuttled down the street to attend the AA meetings required by Eden Ministries. They were held at "The Recovery Room."

Prosecutor Elena Abramson: And you had to go to meetings?

Eric Earle: Yes.

Karla was being brought here too. The men from Eden Ministries couldn't wait for the arrival of the co-ed van from Karla's private rehab.

"The druggie buggie is what the guys at Eden Ministries -- at the halfway house -- would call the vehicle that brought the young women from rehab," Glaser explained.

"Nothing about that says success," Maher commented.

"Nothing about that says success. What it says to me is 'fresh meat,'" said Glaser.

"Enter in Eric Earle," said Maher.

"He cozies up to her," Glaser explained. "He presents himself to be a guy just trying to get sober ... Mr. Nice Guy. He was charming."

Karla Mendez Brada and Eric Earle
Karla Mendez Brada and Eric Earle
Jaroslava Mendez

Earle had hung around AA for decades. Karla was still new to it all.

Prosecutor Elena Abramson: One of the recommendations is you don't date while you're in recovery, is that right?

Eric Earle: Uh, it's suggested.

But together, both Earle and Karla chose to ignore the AA guideline.

"She brought him once to our house. And he was very outgoing. He was very friendly," said Jara.

Asked if he seemed to be kind to Karla, Jara told Maher, "Yes."

Karla's family didn't know much about Earle or his past. He told them he had embraced sobriety.

"I said, 'If he can help her stop drinking, you know, I mean I'll love him for it,'" Jara said. "I don't care who he is."

But Sasha wasn't buying it.

"I told Karla, and I told my mom. I said, 'I don't want anything to do with him. I don't wanna hang out with him. I think that he's just using her,'" she said.

Both Jara and Gabrielle Glaser believe Earle targeted Karla. In a matter of weeks, he moved from the trailer park into Karla's condo.

Prosecutor Elena Abramson: And you moved from Eden Ministries where you have all these restrictions and rules into this nice two bedroom condo ... with your girlfriend Karla, correct?

Eric Earle: Yes.

"I do think that he found her vulnerable ... And needed a place to go, and she took him in. You know, that's Karla," said Rodriguez.

Then, less than five months after they met, Earle asked Karla to marry him.

"I called her and I said, 'Thanks for telling me, you know.' And she said, 'Well, I didn't think you'd be happy,'" said Sasha.

"Do you think she was happier with him?" Maher asked.

"I think she was happier to have someone," Sasha replied.

They had been living together for a few months. It all seemed fine until August 5, when that call came into the 911 operator from Karla's friend, Tonia Walsh:

Tonia Walsh: He just beat the crap out of her. ... And she's asking him to leave and he won't leave.

911 Dispatcher: Put her on the phone please.

Karla Brada: Hello?

911 Dispatcher: Where is your boyfriend?

Karla Brada: Inside the house.

911 Dispatcher: OK, and you're - and are you out front?

Karla Brada: I'm out front.

In front of Karla's family, Eric Earle went up against Prosecutor Elena Abramson, claiming he was dozing in an armchair when 120 pound Karla hit him in the nose.

Prosecutor Elena Abramson: Well, let's talk about August 5th ... So you were drunk on vodka?

Eric Earle: I was under the influence.

But when cops from the Santa Clarita's Sheriff's Station arrived, it was Karla, not Eric who was bloody and beaten.

Prosecutor Elena Abramson: What did you do?

Eric Earle: Tried to get her off me and in the mix of it she got hit.

"Was he drunk then?" Maher asked Abramson.

"Yes, I believe he was," she replied.

Cops quickly put Earle into a squad car.

"He started rocking the patrol car back and forth. He started banging on the door," said Abramson.

Prosecutor Elena Abramson: He told you if you kept doing that he was gonna spray you with some pepper spray, you remember that?

Eric Earle: Yes, I do.

Abramson: And then you said, "F--- you, do it tough guy"?

Earle: I think I did.

Then Earle slammed his feet into the police car window so forcefully he popped the glass out of its frame.

Earle was arrested for domestic violence and brought to the Santa Clarita Sheriff's Station. But it's what happened next that is ultimately so sad. Earle asked Karla to bail him out of jail.

Glaser says Karla paid the $8,000 bail and the couple continued to live together.

"Does the family know about this incident?" Maher asked.

"Her family does not know about this," Glaser replied.

"Then we saw her with a black eye and I says, 'Karla, what happened?' And she says, 'Oh, I tripped and fell.' And I said, 'Karla, are you sure?'" said Jara.

Like so many other frightened and battered women across America, Karla stayed in the shadows. She kept silent. Afraid and ashamed, she never told those who loved her what had happened.

"I called her on the phone and I said, 'Is he hitting you? Is he abusive towards you?'" Sasha said. "And, you know, she just kept saying, 'No. ...Her exact words were 'Do you really think I would let a guy hit me?'"

"Did you believe her?" Maher asked Karla's mother.

"Yeah," Jara sighed.

"But she told you, 'No.' What else could you do?"

"'He's not that kind of a guy' she said," Jara explained.

"Do you think she was afraid?" Maher continued.

"Yeah. She was terrified," said Jara.

"Victims come in every form," Abramson said. "They stay because they're afraid to leave. They stay because they're embarrassed. They stay because they think that their abuser is going to change."

Karla, with visible bruises, and Eric Earle would return to the same AA group where they had grown so close.

"She thought that she had found a safe place to get her life back together?" Maher asked Glaser.

"She thought she had found a safe partner who was on the same path," she replied.

"And in fact what did she find?"

"She found a violent, controlling, vicious man," said Glaser.

On September 1 at 8:38 a.m., just four weeks after he had been arrested for beating Karla, another call came into the 911 operator. This time it was Eric Earle on the line:

Eric Earle to 911[crying]: I woke up this morning and my girlfriend passed away. ...My girlfriend -- my fiancée!

He sounded panicked and began to weave a story about how Karla had accidently fallen down the stairs:

Eric Earle to 911: She's got like bruises like down the side of her. I like...I don't know if she fell last night. She did drink and she's been taking some pills.

Soon investigators were asking questions about murder. But another set of questions would be raised by Karla's family about why Eric and Karla were allowed to attend AA together at all.

"Do you think if she hadn't gone to AA she'd be alive?" Maher asked Jara.

"Definitely. Yeah," she replied.

"13TH STEPPING"

On trial for first-degree murder, Eric Earle denied he had punched or even argued with Karla Mendez Brada the night she died. But hours before investigators believe Karla was killed, Earle was on the phone with Johnny Dos Santos.

"Karla was in the background basically, lettin' me know that he was drunk," he said.

Dos Santos had lived at Eden Ministries with Earle. They attended NA and AA together.

"I heard her tell Eric, 'You need to leave.' And I can hear the punches through the phone," said Dos Santos.

"Eric punching her?" Maher asked.

"Yeah," he replied.

"How did you know he was punching her?"

"'Cause I've had a lot of punches myself," Dos Santos explained. "And I know what a punch sounds like."

"Did you call the police?" Maher asked.

"No. We don't call the police. We handle it ourselves," he said.

After midnight on Sept 1, 2011, the quiet suburban stillness was shattered. The next door neighbors say they heard Eric Earle inside the condo cursing repeatedly for over an hour. Those same neighbors also tell police that in the morning, around 7:30 a.m., they once again heard Earle's voice. This time he was saying "Karla! Karla!" over and over, as if he was trying to rouse someone who wouldn't or couldn't wake up.

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Eric Earle testifies during his trial for the murder of Karla Mendez Brada.
48 Hours

Eric Earle [crying]: And that's when I started screaming her name.

Defense attorney David Arredondo: At that point you realized she was dead?

Eric Earle: I didn't know what to think! I didn't know what...

Incredibly, it took Eric Earle over an hour to call police, sounding stunned and frantic:

Eric Earle to 911: My girlfriend, my fiancé, she passed away....And it looks like - like she's got like some bruises down her right arm. She fell last night.

"I was asleep ... And suddenly the phone rang," Jara recalled. "I picked it up and I heard ... Eric -- he was shouting, 'Get over here right now!' ... And he says, 'Well, she's gone. She's gone.'"

As her family raced to Karla's condo, Earle would tell police the same story he would eventually tell a jury: that he'd picked up two pints of vodka at a 7-Eleven and downed one.

Defense attorney David Arredondo: And then did you start drinking the other bottle of vodka?

Eric Earle: Yes

And around midnight, the man who had spent decades in and out of AA claims he fell into a drunken slumber.

Defense attorney David Arredondo: Anything cause you to wake up?

Eric Earle: Yes. ...I heard her tumble down the stairs carrying the basket full of clothes.

Earle swore it was the laundry -- not him -- that killed Karla.

Eric Earle: I immediately looked down the stairs. And that's where she was.

Prosecutor Elena Abramson: Hunched over a laundry basket?

Eric Earle: Yeah.

Earle swears he helped Karla back up the stairs and he noticed she was slurring her words.

Eric Earle: She was on something - I did not know.

In fact, the toxicology report shows the night she died, Karla had methadone and methamphetamine in her system.

"She apparently had a overdose of methadone," said Arredondo.

"Methadone wasn't enough to kill her," Abramson told Maher. "She was asphyxiated. She wasn't able to breathe."

The coroner's report indicates that the beating 6'2" Eric Earle allegedly gave 5' 4" Karla Mendez Brada was merciless -- that in her own home, she suffered dozens of injuries before investigators found her lifeless body in bed.

"Is there any doubt in your mind that Eric Earle killed your daughter?"Maher asked Jara.

"None whatsoever," she stated.

An ambulance took Karla's broken body to the morgue. By the time her family got to the condo that Karla had been so proud of, all that was left was a crime scene.

"What was the first thing that you saw?" Maher asked Jara as they walked through Karla's home.

"I could see there were marks, bloody marks on the wall and the door," she replied.

"Like blood spatter?" Maher asked.

"Right, and also here it was all broken glass, and there was about eight empty vodka bottles," said Jara.

And up that stairway Eric said Karla had accidently tumbled down, "This whole door was cracked ... Everything was cracked," Jara continued, pointing out the damaged door jamb.

"So you think the door was broken down?" Maher asked.

"Obviously," Jara replied. "She must have locked herself in here and tried to keep him away from her."

The Mendez family was stunned. Eric Earle was in police custody....violent, raging, and drunk.

It was during those unfathomable moments, with Karla gone just hours, that Earle's hidden life began to be revealed.

"The detectives ... right there in front of her condo. They told us that he's a very bad man, that he's done very bad things," Jara told Maher.

"'Hey did you know that Eric ... has a record this long, and you know he was a con man,'" said Sasha.

Then Jara discovered photos on Karla's phone - self-portraits of that beating Earle gave Karla just one month before she died ... purple bruises that few at their AA meetings could have missed.

"Was that the first time you saw those pictures?" Maher asked.

"Yes. Yeah," Jara replied.

Then, within days came the most sickening of revelations: Karla wasn't the first woman Eric Earle had beaten and abused.

"Since 1991, assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence, elder abuse," said Jara.

"He's not... an extremely violent person. He is a person who is troubled," said Earle's defense attorney, David Arredondo.

"He is an extremely violent person. This man has misdemeanor battery, 1991, 1994. In December 2000, another domestic violence," Maher protested.

"It did not involve serious injury," Arredondo replied.

"How can you say domestic violence is not serious injury?" Maher pressed. "He went after his mother. He brandished a weapon. He has an extremely long rap sheet."

"Well here's the thing, his record is not an issue here," said Arredondo.

But Eric Earle's decades-long criminal history was about to become a huge issue -- not just for him, but for AA, where, remember, there's no requirement that attendees reveal if they have a criminal record.

"It's supposed to be a safe place," Sasha said. "Why would you mix these people together?"

"Were you surprised that somebody with that kind of criminal background could just be sitting openly in an AA meeting next to your daughter?" Maher asked Jara.

"Unbelievable," she replied.

Added Glaser, "His ex-wife told me that that's how he finds his women, that's where he goes."

AA states it "has no authority, legal or otherwise to control the behavior of AA members." While AA as fertile ground for predators is certainly not sanctioned, not part of the famous 12 Steps, insiders know more.

"There's something called the 13th Step that is this harassment. It's any sort of unwanted sexual advance. And it's gone on in AA from the beginning of time," said Glaser.

"13th step is like you see someone that comes in. She's vulnerable. She's little weak in the mind. She doesn't have a lotta strength," Dos Santos explained.

Documentary filmmaker Monica Richardson was in AA for 36 years. It was that concern over safety issues that compelled her to leave. She says 13th Stepping is "a huge problem" and is so common, she made a film about it.

"And the members who are going there are not safe?" Maher asked.

"No. They're not safe," said Richardson.

A DISTURBING PATTERN

In friendly, relaxing neighborhood bars and in liquor stores and pubs across the country, most Americans drink alcohol down in responsible moderation.

Eric Earle: I've been struggling with alcohol my whole life, yes.

Then, there are the 17 million people who are alcoholics. It used to be that for every four male alcoholics, there was 1 woman, but the profile is changing - now it's 2 ½ men for every 1 woman battling alcoholism.

One woman who spoke to "48 Hours" says, "It started out social. Then it would be just getting home and drinking."

It was 2010 when the wife and mother walked into her local AA meeting. She found support. But when she went downstairs to use the bathroom, she also found a longtime AA member waiting.

"He's like, 'Come here and gimme a hug,'" she said. "And he kept tryin' to kiss me, and I'm struggling with him."

The woman says she was groped, but managed to break free. She went to police and got an order of protection against her attacker. But it was the response she got from her group that really shocked her.

"You know, you need to stay away from him," she said she was told.

When the woman first spoke to "48 Hours" on camera, she was eager to tell her story. But just a few weeks before this story was set to air, she became concerned, saying some members of her AA group had strongly advised her that speaking to the media is against AA traditions. "48 Hours" decided not identify her, but we still felt her story demanded to be told.

"Why come forward and talk about it?" Maher asked the woman.

"Because I don't want it to happen to anybody else," she replied.

What she told "48 Hours" is part of a disturbing pattern. Her alleged attacker, just like Eric Earle, has a previous conviction for assault. And over the years, just like Eric Earle, sometimes he ended up at AA because of a court-ordered mandate.

"They were court-ordering sex offenders and violent offenders in plea deals to AA," said Richardson.

By AA's own numbers, 12 percent of its membership has been ordered to attend AA by the justice system.

"Courts are busy and jails are full and so everyone's looking for an answer," California Judge Rogelio Flores told "48 Hours."

Judge Flores served in the leadership of AA, as what the organization calls a Class A (non-alcoholic) trustee.

"I have so many friends and colleagues and family members who got sober in AA," he said.

For 16 years, Judge Flores served in "drug courts," providing sentencing options other than prison.

"And part of that drug court was a 12-step AA or NA meeting," he explained.

A maxed-out system recognized that some non-violent criminals may not need prison, they just need a way to deal with their addiction.

Eric Earle: I wanted to stop drinking. I wanted to better my life!

"Is it fair to say that violent offenders sometimes slip through the cracks and they end up in AA meetings? Maher asked Judge Flores.

"Oh, there's no doubt," he said.

Eric Earle fit that frightening profile to a T, when Karla Mendez Brada -- trying to mend her own tattered life -- walked into AA.

"He saw in her desperation. And he saw in her weakness," Sasha said. "I think he could read that from a mile away."

"Do you fear that there will be another Karla Mendez case if there isn't some sort of reckoning within AA?" Maher asked Gabrielle Glaser.

"Absolutely. There already have been," she replied.

In St. Paul, Minnesota , Megan Neely, a 27 year-old mother of two, was strangled to death by her boyfriend, Corey Dean Thomas, who she had met just a few months earlier at AA. Thomas had four prior violent felony convictions.

"I came across the case of a very creepy pedophile in Montana," Glaser continued.

His name is Sean Callahan. A convicted child molester, he was mandated to attend AA. Police discovered his diary. It reads like a manual for "13th Stepping":

"Will take sex wherever I can get it, whoever I can trick or use," Callahan writes, adding, "Usually women early in sobriety, 'cause they are the most vulnerable."

"So AA is aware there's a problem? Maher asked Richardson.

"Uh, huh," she affirmed.

"What has been the response?" Maher asked.

"They have said things like we don't tell our members how to act," Richardson replied.

AA doesn't have a traditional corporate hierarchy. Individual groups handle their own safety issues. The national leadership, known as the General Service Board, has stated it "Would not have a role in setting any behavioral guidelines."

In an anonymous building in Manhattan, AA has its headquarters. The organization that started in Ohio in 1935, now has some 1.3 million U.S. members, and countless worldwide success stories.

When "48 Hours" asked, we were let in, but were only allowed to film empty hallways and displays of memorabilia. No AA officials would speak to "48 Hours" on camera -- no interviews granted about safety or the tragic death of Karla Brada.

"They should know better. That you are vulnerable," Sasha said. "It's like you're washing your hands of something that you've created."

Karla Mendez Brada and her sister, Sasha
Karla Mendez Brada and her sister, Sasha
Jaroslava Mendez

"Do you think Alcoholics Anonymous is partially responsible for what happened to your sister?" Maher asked.

"I do," Sasha replied.

But Alcoholics Anonymous is not charged with murder. Only Eric Allen Earle is. The defense maintains is that it was an accident -- Karla, high on drugs, fell down the stairs.

"The contusions, abrasions together, the pattern shows she fell down the stairs," defense attorney David Arredondo addressed the court.

The prosecution's case would come down to this: a drunken, rage-filled man and a brutal beating.

"He put something over her mouth and her neck and she suffered for three or four minutes before she died," prosecutor Elena Abramson told the court.

And in her closing argument, Abramson implored the jury to hold Eric Earle accountable.

"Tell him that by rendering a verdict of guilty as to first degree, premeditated murder," she said.

SEEKING JUSTICE FOR KARLA

September 18, 2014. Three devastating years after her death, Karla Brada's case goes to the jury. Emotionally drained, all her family can do now is wait on the verdict and the fate of Eric Earle.

karlabrada3.jpg
Karla Mendez Brada
Jaroslava Mendez

The deliberation lasted just over two hours. Karla's family braced for the news.

Court Clerk: "We, the jury ... find the defendant Eric Allen Earl, guilty of the crime of murder. ... We further find the murder to be of the first degree"

More tears from a family that has already cried enough to last a lifetime.

"We're shocked, but in a good way," Sasha said of the verdict. "We're just so grateful that they came to a decision so fast, and they came to the right decision."

It is a celebration no one would ever want to have.

"It's a relief," Jara said. "All this time we have not been able to live."

Following the verdict, Hector and Jara Mendez head straight to Karla's old bedroom and their shrine for her ashes.

"'Mama, we made it," Jara told her daughter. "Justice for you. We made it. We got justice for you."

But their fight is not yet over.

At Karla's childhood home, where her family has spent months and months grieving privately, her parents have decided to launch a very public effort. With Eric Earle convicted of murder, Hector and Jara are now taking aim at the organization they also hold responsible for their daughter's death. They have filed a lawsuit against one of America's most well respected institutions, Alcoholics Anonymous.

"With Karla, I mean, you have a young woman who's vulnerable ... and a system that is designed to help her, actually hurt her," the Mendez' civil attorney, John Noland said. "What I was surprised was when I found out that people who go to AA have no knowledge of the person sitting next to them."

In their lawsuit, Hector and Jara claim AA is in part at fault for Karla's death for not warning attendees that violent criminals -- like Eric Earle -- could be at the same meeting.

"They just want to make sure that this doesn't happen to other young girls or other young victims," Noland explained.

Only days after Earle is convicted, a New York process server delivered the lawsuit to AA's world headquarters.

"You have an organization that in large part does good. But it has a problem and they refuse to address the problem. And it's a very easy fix," said Noland.

Asked what she would like to see AA do, Jara told Maher, "First of all, separate."

"If the criminals were separated from the regular population in AA, Karla would be alive today," said Richardson.

"Why can't they have two separate meetings at the same time?" Maher asked Glaser.

"I was told that would be stigmatizing," she said.

Up to now, AA's General Service Office has refused to implement such changes. And in an e-mail to "48 Hours" they wrote, "Members share as much, or as little as they wish about their past, with other AA members ... There are no rules or policies regarding such things." But even Judge Flores agrees, AA can do better.

"You know, it's going to take some time. As more and more young people come into the fellowship, as more and more women come into the fellowship, as more and more people come into the fellowship who are concerned -- about these issues, I think we're gonna start seeing some changes," he said.

"But it has to happen," Noland said. "It has to start somewhere."

While the Mendez' fight to reform Alcoholics Anonymous moves ahead, Eric Earle, now in a wheelchair suffering from multiple sclerosis, is back in court to learn his sentence and to hear directly from Karla's family.

It is Hector, for whom English is a second language and who often doesn't say much, who demands Earle, and the court's attention.

"Eric Earle? Eric Earle? Eric Earle! This is my daughter -- for me, my child, my - all of my life - and you killed her," he said in tears. "I cannot accept that I will not see her again. ...You are very dangerous and you're a predator."

"Mr. Earle ... you're done," the judge said, "because you're going to be locked up for the rest of your life."

For this shattered family, a sentence of 26 years-to-life for Eric Earle brings some peace. But there is still also a web of complex feelings, brought on by a loved one fighting the demons of addiction and domestic violence - a young woman like so many others, Karla Brada.

"Are you mad at her a little?" Maher asked Sasha.

"Uh huh. A lot," she affirmed. "She was smarter than that, she was better than that. She should have said something."

"There are a lot of complicated issues when you're talking about people who are victims of domestic violence," prosecutor Elena Abramson said. "You can't judge them. You have to love and support them. And do your best to try to keep them safe. But you can't blame them."

"If Karla hadn't been to those meetings, if she hadn't gone through that process ... she would've never met him and she'd still be here. And -- maybe she'd still be struggling with her own issues, but she'd be here," said Sasha.


The Mendez family's lawsuit against Alcoholics Anonymous is still pending.