Charlie Malzahn avoids death penalty for killing Arizona teacher Cathryn Gorospe, enraging victim's mom: "Life in prison is a gift"
A man who brutally killed an Arizona elementary school teacher after she bailed him out of jail will spend the rest of his life prison, a judge said Tuesday. Charlie Malzahn, 32, was given a life sentence with no chance of parole in Coconino County Superior Court.
For family members and friends of Cathryn Gorospe, the Flagstaff courtroom marked their first time seeing Malzahn in person since her 2017 slaying.
Gorospe's mother, Lynnette Jackson, was visibly outraged that Malzahn avoided the death penalty.
"Life in prison is a gift. What choice did Cathryn have," Jackson said. "There is no justice for Cathryn today. It's mercy we give you."
Judge Dan Slayton said he agreed with Jackson that justice really cannot be served in a case like this.
"You'll leave here and leave with the same heaviness and emptiness you've expressed and that you've felt for almost the past five years," Slayton said at the hearing's end. "What I have seen here is a tremendous amount of love for each other. I hope that feeling of love and kindness to each other will enable you to find peace."
Gorospe's father, Ray, told the court nothing he experienced as a soldier and a firefighter compared to knowing his daughter had been stabbed to death and then run over with her car.
"I didn't know it was possible to feel so much pain without being physically injured," Ray Gorospe said in between sobs. "People talk of closure. To me, there will never be closure, only the terrible pain of losing my daughter."
Malzahn pleaded guilty in June to first-degree murder, abandonment of a body and other charges. Prosecutors agreed to drop capital punishment as a sentencing option for Malzahn in exchange for his pleas.
The judge also ordered that Malzahn serve consecutive sentences ranging from 2-1/2 years to 15 years for the other charges. They include theft of means of transportation, theft of a credit card and armed robbery.
Malzahn spoke briefly during the hearing.
"I just want to say I'm sorry. I know it doesn't change anything," he said.
Gorospe, 44, went missing in October 2017 after posting bond for Malzahn, who was jailed in Coconino County and had at least three prior felony convictions for crimes that spanned the state. She put up her house as collateral and had hoped to help Malzahn curb drug addictions and straighten out his life.
Instead, he stabbed her multiple times near Williams, where the two met. He was the stepson of a police chief and working at a restaurant, and Gorospe was working a summer job as a tour guide in the town that's about an hour from the Grand Canyon, where she had rafted the river and often hiked.
Malzahn later was seen driving Gorospe's blood-stained SUV in Phoenix and was arrested after fleeing from law enforcement. He gave authorities details and directions that narrowed the search for Gorospe's body.
Gorospe's remains were found on private property in Mayer, about 85 miles south of Williams. Along with multiple stab wounds, she had broken ribs and defensive wounds. The remains were identified using dental records.
Ray Gorospe and his son, Cory, visited the site Tuesday morning that was encircled with stones and dotted with green pinwheels. Her family and friends wore green at the court hearing to honor Gorospe's love for the Green Bay Packers and necklaces her father had made after she died with a Mickey Mouse and a green emerald.
"She was a smart and fun person who was driven in any project she took on," her stepmother Deidre Gorospe told The Associated Press. "And unfortunately she had this flawed belief that anybody could be rescued with enough kindness and compassion. And while that served the kids she taught and the pets she rescued, unfortunately with her murderer, it cost her her life."
After showing a slideshow from her funeral, relatives and two friends read statements that spoke of Gorospe's kindness and her love of teaching. They also said her murder has made it hard for for them to trust and want to help others. Michelle Kaehler, her aunt, chastised those who believe Gorospe was at fault for being compassionate.
"Cathryn was not an airhead, stupid or quote 'should have known better.' She was a strong intelligent capable woman who thought she was doing the right thing," Kaehler said.
Freya Gorospe, Gorospe's sister-in-law, said her three children have great memories of their aunt and have been greatly affected by her death.
"I'm wanting to make the point that I'll never be able to forgive him for taking the innocence from them, having to know what murder is at such a young age," she told the AP.
Gorospe grew up in California but moved to Arizona to attend college and stayed, teaching elementary school children in the Phoenix area and frequently visiting the northern part of the state.
Gorospe and Malzahn dated for about a month before she bailed him out of jail, according to records. Gorospe tried to set boundaries to ensure he sought help for substance abuse and he would get a job, Deidre Gorospe said.
Malzahn has spent the last few years jailed in Maricopa County on separate charges and at the state psychiatric hospital to ensure he was competent to proceed with the murder case in Coconino County.
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