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Sandi Dawn NIEVES

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Nieves told police she killed her children to get even with the men in her life
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: June 30, 1998
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: 1964
Victims profile: Jaqlene Marie Folden, 5, Kristl Dawn Folden, 7, Rashel Holly Nieves, 11, and Nikolet Amber Nieves, 12 (her four daughters)
Method of murder: Smoke inhalation (set her house on fire)
Location: Los Angeles County, California, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on October 6, 2000
 
 

 
 

Nieves, Sandi Dawn: White; age 34 at crime; murder of four Latin females (her children), ages 5, 7, 11 and 12, in Saugus (north of Los Angeles) on 6-30-1998; sentenced on 10-6-2000.


Summary of Offense:

Sentenced to death for murdering her four daughters and then setting their home ablaze on July 1, 1998. Jaqlene Marie Folden, 5, Kristl Dawn Folden, 7, Rashel Holly Nieves, 11, and Nikolet Amber Nieves, 12, were clad in their pajamas when they were found dead in sleeping bags and bedding in the kitchen. The woman's 14-year-old son, David, was hospitalized briefly for smoke inhalation and is now living with his father. Nieves killed her children to prevent their father from getting custody.

Nieves was sentenced to death in Los Angeles County on October 6, 2000.


Mother Who Killed 4 in Fire Is Sentenced to Death

Court: Judge says Sandi Nieves 'betrayed the trust of her children' in taking 'final revenge' against the men in her life

By Caitlin Liu - Los Angeles Times

October 7, 2000

Calling the murders of four girls "cold, vicious and calculated," a judge Friday sentenced their mother, Sandi Nieves, to death, making her the 12th woman on California's death row.

"She betrayed the trust of her children," said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt, condemning the Santa Clarita woman for the "horrible and violent deaths" of her daughters, ages 5 to 12, after she set their house on fire.

Nieves, 36, hid her face behind white paper during the hearing. When asked if she had anything to say, she responded, "If I could take back time . . . if I was smarter . . . if I had time before everyone passed out, we would have gotten out of that house."

The mother of five was convicted July 27 of the first-degree murders of Jaqlene Folden, Kristl Folden, Rashel Folden-Nieves and Nikolet Folden-Nieves, who died of smoke inhalation. She was also found guilty of arson and the attempted murder of her son David, who was 14 at the time and survived the fire.

During the 3 1/2-month trial, prosecutors established that Nieves was financially desperate and angry at the men in her life. In the weeks before the murders, a boyfriend left her, and she was engaged in a child-support battle with an ex-husband.

On the night of June 30, 1998, Nieves told her five children to sleep in the kitchen, where she joined them. She then poured gasoline on the carpet and set it afire. In testimony against his mother, David said the children woke gagging from smoke, but Nieves ordered them to remain where they were.

"She was staging this multiple murder as the final revenge at the men in her life," Wiatt said.

Deputy Public Defender Howard Waco unsuccessfully argued that Nieves was not "legally conscious" at the time of the crime. Nieves, who testified in her own defense, said she had a flashback of holding a lighter in her hand, but otherwise had no idea what happened.

On Aug. 9, a jury recommended the death penalty for Nieves, and at least seven jurors and one alternate returned Friday to the San Fernando courtroom, occasionally casting an icy glance in her direction

Juror Bob Fisher of Van Nuys said during a break: "The mother, taking the lives of her children, it's just unthinkable."

Several jurors cried as they listened to Charlotte Nieves, stepmother of the two older girls, describe the suffering of her husband Fernando and Dave Folden, father of the two younger girls.

"My heart aches because of all the memories we didn't get to make," Charlotte Nieves said.

David Nieves, now 16, lives with his father, Fernando, and stepmother and did not appear in court Friday. The boy has refused all contact with his mother. "The mail he receives from jail, he throws in the trash," Fernando Nieves said.

Of the 12 women on California's death row, three others are from Los Angeles County. Maureen McDermott, a former nurse, was sentenced in 1990 for ordering the killing of her Van Nuys roommate to collect an insurance policy. In 1993, Catherine Thompson was sentenced for hiring a killer to murder her husband in Westwood. A year later, Mary Ellen Samuels was sent to death row by a Van Nuys judge for orchestrating the murders of her husband and the hit man she had hired to kill him.

The last woman executed by the state was Elizabeth Ann Duncan of Ventura, in 1962, for murdering her pregnant daughter-in-law.

On Friday, prosecutors said Nieves deserved death row. "We've yet to see her remorse," Silverman said. "Justice was served today."


Jury Recommends Death Penalty for Sandi Nieves

Verdict: After one day of deliberating, jurors decide on execution for the mother who set a fire that killed her four daughters

By Caitlin Liu - Los Angeles Times

August 10, 2000

Agreeing on punishment as swiftly as they did on guilt, 12 San Fernando jurors Wednesday found that Sandi Nieves deserves to die for the murders of her four daughters.

Hiding her face, the Santa Clarita woman who murdered her four daughters and tried to kill her son two years ago sat stoically as the verdict of execution was delivered after just one day of deliberations.

She broke down crying after she was led out of the courtroom, her lawyer said.

Nieves, 36, will be the 12th woman on California's death row if she is sentenced to death by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt, who is expected to uphold the jury's verdict. The last time a woman received a death sentence in the state was in San Diego County in October.

"We're very happy with today's verdict," said Fernando Nieves, father of two of the dead girls and the teenage boy who survived the house fire set by their mother. "The jury never lost focus of what this trial was all about--it was about four innocent little girls."

Eyes gleaming with tears, the father said he would like to watch his ex-wife's execution.

Under California law, the case will automatically be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

During a trial that lasted three months, prosecutors established that Nieves wanted to take revenge against the men in her life. She told her children they were having a slumber party, had them sleep together in the kitchen, and then started a fire.

Jaqlene and Kristl Folden, 5 and 7, and Rashel and Nikolet Folden-Nieves, 11 and 12, died of smoke inhalation. David Nieves, who was 14 at the time, was also in the house but survived. Now 16, he testified against his mother during the trial. He told the jury that he and his sisters woke up choking on smoke, but that their mother would not let them leave the burning house.

Deputy Public Defender Howard Waco contended that at the time of the blaze, Nieves was in a legally unconscious, sleepwalking-like state induced by a combination of hormonal imbalance, stress and an adverse reaction to prescription drugs.

The jury of five women and seven men found Nieves guilty of four counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and arson on July 27, after one day of deliberating.

Given the facts and the circumstances of the crimes, this is the only appropriate verdict," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Beth Silverman. "The mother who deliberately killed her children to exact revenge--that's a horrible crime."

Added Deputy Dist. Atty. Kenneth Barshop: "How do you forgive someone who did the unforgivable?"

Free to talk publicly for the first time Wednesday, all the jurors shunned the news media and Nieves' attorney. But they invited prosecutors and the victims' families to join them in the jury room, where they shared doughnuts and cookies.

Outside San Fernando Superior Court, some jurors hugged before going their separate ways.

An alternate juror, a crime scene photographer for the LAPD who declined to give his name, said: "We did our civic duty. That's all we can be held accountable for."

But their quick, unanimous decisions on Nieves' guilt and punishment spoke louder than any words, prosecutors said.

Waco said he was disappointed, but that it was understandable because he wasn't permitted to present all the evidence he had hoped to during the trial.

"The court seemed to have rulings which were very consistently favoring the prosecution," Waco said.

During the trial, prosecutors and Waco fought bitterly over evidence, each accusing the other of impropriety. Wiatt repeatedly sanctioned Waco, mostly for making improper objections or statements, and slapped him with thousands of dollars in fines.

Waco, in turn, repeatedly filed motions to remove Wiatt from the trial, alleging that the judge was biased against him. In his own court filings, Wiatt denied Waco's charges and stated that his rulings conformed with the law.

But on Wednesday, Wiatt announced he was wiping out thousands of dollars in monetary sanctions he had imposed on the defense attorney, except the first one--a $500 fine for failure to comply with discovery rules.

Waco said he planned to appeal that fine.

With tears in his eyes outside the courthouse, David Folden, father of the two younger dead girls, said it didn't matter to him whether Sandi Nieves--who was his stepdaughter before he married, then divorced her--lived or died.

"I have to deal with my life without my daughters," Folden said. "The pain never goes away."


Mother Not to Blame in Deaths of Her 4 Girls, Lawyer Argues

By Caitlin Liu - Los Angeles Times

July 25, 2000

In an unusual closing argument punctuated by objections, the defense attorney for Sandi Nieves, who is accused of murdering her four daughters, urged jurors to find her not guilty.

"Sandi Dawn Nieves is and was not a murderer," said Deputy Public Defender Howard Waco, in a rambling closing argument that will continue today in San Fernando Superior Court. He asked jurors to "squeeze the grape of truth" so that "justice will come out."

Waco accused prosecutors of bias and contended that Nieves was not legally conscious at the time of the deadly blaze. Along the way, he repeatedly apologized to jurors for his own conduct during the trial.

Prosecutors allege that Nieves, 36, was angry and wanted to take revenge against the men in her life. The mother allegedly gathered her five children in the kitchen of their Saugus house for a slumber party on the night of June 30, 1998, and started a fire sometime after midnight. Her daughters, Kristl, 5; Jaqlene, 7; Rashel, 11, and Nikolet, 12, died of smoke inhalation. Her son, David, who was 14 at the time, survived.

Nieves is charged with four counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and arson. If convicted, she could be sentenced to the death penalty.

"Her children were her heart and soul . . . her whole world. In her right mind, she would never do them harm," Waco said Monday.

Waco said that letters written by Nieves before the fire had been mischaracterized by prosecutors as suicide notes. In one letter, an apparently angry Nieves wrote to an ex-husband who sought to reverse his adoption of the three oldest children: "Now you don't have to support any of us."

That language is "hyperbole," Waco said, adding that using dramatic language was not unusual for Nieves. "She was a very depressed person. But not so depressed that she would want to kill her children," Waco said.

He accused prosecutors and detectives of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department of sneakiness and bias in how they handled the case.

"Absolute power corrupts absolutely," Waco said, attributing the 19th century British statesman Lord Acton's famous quote to Thomas Jefferson.

Also notable Monday was how frequently and successfully prosecutors objected to Waco's arguments.

In the first three hours of Waco's closing, Deputy Dist. Attys. Beth Silverman and Kenneth Barshop objected more than 60 times, arguing that Waco was misstating the evidence. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt sustained the vast majority.

"If I'm wrong, I apologize. I don't mean to mislead you in any way," Waco said, at one point.

Waco's closing argument also caps a contentious three-month trial during which the lawyer was sanctioned repeatedly and fined thousands of dollars by Wiatt. Waco, alleging bias, has asked that Wiatt be removed from the trial. In court documents, Wiatt denied Waco's allegations and said he followed the law in his rulings.


Nieves' Attorney Apologetic in Closing Argument

By Caitlin Liu - Los Angeles Times

July 25, 2000

In an unusual closing argument perforated by objections, the defense attorney for Sandi Nieves, the woman accused of murdering her four daughters, urged jurors to find her not guilty.

"Sandi Dawn Nieves is [not] and was not a murderer," said Deputy Public Defender Howard Waco in a rambling closing that is expected to continue today in San Fernando Superior Court. He asked jurors to "squeeze the grape of truth" so that "justice will come out."

Waco accused prosecutors of bias and contended that Nieves was not legally conscious at the time of the deadly blaze in which her daughters died. Along the way, he also misquoted Thomas Jefferson and repeatedly apologized to jurors for his own conduct during the trial.

Prosecutors allege that Nieves, 36, was angry and wanted to take revenge against the men in her life. The mother allegedly gathered her five children in the kitchen of their Saugus house for a slumber party on the night of June 30, 1998, and then started a fire sometime after midnight. Her daughters, Kristl and Jaqlene Folden, 5 and 7, and Rashel and Nikolet Folden-Nieves, 11 and 12, died of smoke inhalation. Her son, David Nieves, who was 14 at the time, survived.

Nieves is charged with four counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and arson. If convicted, she could be sentenced to death.

"Her children were her heart and soul . . . her whole world. In her right mind, she would never do them harm," Waco said Monday.

Waco said that letters written by Nieves before the fire had been mischaracterized by prosecutors as suicide notes. In one letter, an angry Nieves wrote to an ex-husband who sought to reverse his adoption of the three elder children: "Now you don't have to support any of us."

That language is "hyperbole," Waco said, adding that using dramatic language was not unusual for her. "She was a very depressed person. But not so depressed that she would want to kill her children," Waco said.

He also accused prosecutors and detectives of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department of sneakiness and bias in how they handled the case.

"Absolute power corrupts absolutely," Waco said, attributing 19th century British statesman Lord Acton's famous quote to Thomas Jefferson.

Also notable Monday was how frequently and successfully prosecutors objected to Waco's arguments.

In the first three hours of Waco's closing argument, Deputy Dist. Attys. Beth Silverman and Kenneth Barshop objected more than 60 times. Most objections alleged that Waco was misstating the evidence. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt sustained the vast majority.

"If I'm wrong, I apologize. I don't mean to mislead you in any way," Waco said at one point.

Waco's closing argument also caps a contentious three-month trial during which the lawyer was sanctioned repeatedly and fined thousands of dollars by Wiatt, whom Waco asked be removed from the trial, alleging bias. In court documents, Wiatt denied Waco's allegations and said he followed the law in his rulings.


Mother Arrested in 4 Girls' Deaths, Fire

Crime: Facing bitter custody dispute, woman asphyxiated the sleeping girls and set the blaze, police say

By Jeff Leeds and Solomon Moore and T. Christian Mille - Los Angeles Times

July 3, 1998

Sandi Nieves was fighting hard to hang on to her children in an ugly custody battle, worried that the allegedly violent behavior of her ex-husband's older son presented a danger to her four young daughters.

"I am concerned for the safety of our children," she wrote a judge.

On Thursday, authorities accused her of killing them.

Nieves, 34, who was arrested on suspicion of murder, allegedly encouraged her four girls--ages 5, 7, 11 and 12--to hold a slumber party in the kitchen of the family's Santa Clarita home Tuesday night, then asphyxiated them with natural gas from the oven, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and coroner's sources said. Nieves then allegedly used gasoline to ignite a fire that blackened the inside of the home but did little damage to its exterior, sources said.

Firefighters responding to a 911 call from the home on Cherry Creek Drive on Wednesday afternoon found the four girls tucked into sleeping bags on the floor of the kitchen. Nieves and her son, David Nieves, 14, were taken to a hospital for treatment for smoke inhalation, where they are listed in good condition.

Authorities said Nieves would be taken to jail as soon as she is released by doctors.

The killings came just one day before Nieves and her ex-husband, David E. Folden, 47, were due in a Riverside County court in advance of a hearing Monday to reconsider custody of their children, as well as the division of shared property.

Folden was seeking greater access to his children, but Nieves said in court papers that she feared for their safety because of alleged drug problems and violent behavior by Folden's son from a previous marriage. That son, David M. Folden, 25, twice violated a restraining order forbidding him to come within 300 yards of the younger children, according to Riverside County Sheriff's Department records.

The elder Folden declined to comment when contacted Thursday at his home in Perris. His lawyer was visibly upset as she left Thursday's court hearing, which was canceled by Family Law Court Judge Jean P. Leonard.

"It's a typical divorce case. This is shocking," said Folden's lawyer, Krystal Clemens. "They had no money to fight over."

Nieves' lawyer did not return phone calls Thursday seeking comment.

Nieves' stepmother, Penny Lucia, said the couple's divorce had grown increasingly rancorous since the couple separated in February 1997. The divorce was made final in August, but Folden had applied to the court for custody of the two younger girls, his biological daughters. Folden told the court that Nieves beat the children with a long wooden spoon. However, Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services officials said they had no reports of child abuse by Nieves.

Nieves, who had been unemployed, believed that she would be able to retain full custody of the children, Lucia said, because she had recently completed training to become a police officer and was applying for jobs in San Diego County.

Lucia said she spoke with her stepdaughter Tuesday, the day before the children's deaths. The two, she said, had a typical mother-daughter chat about the children, school and how they missed each other.

"Sandi would die for her kids," Lucia said. "That's why the divorce is so bitter. It's over the kids. She wants everything for those kids."

In a bizarre twist to an already bizarre case, Lucia said that Folden met Nieves when he married her mother--Delores Folden. When he divorced Delores Folden in 1987, he listed Nieves as his daughter in court papers.

After that divorce, Nieves and Folden grew close and married in June 1989, Lucia said. Eventually, Folden adopted Nieves' three children from her previous marriage: David, the 14-year-old, and his two sisters, both of whom were killed: Nikolet A. Folden, 12 and Rashel H. Folden, 11.

The couple then had two of their own children, Kristl D. Folden, 7, and Jaqlene M. Folden, 5, both of whom authorities said were also killed by the gas.

The biological father of the oldest three children, Ferdinand Nieves, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Penny Lucia said her stepdaughter told her that Folden served her papers Monday seeking to annul his adoption of the three oldest children in order to reduce his child support payments. No documents seeking such an annulment could be found Thursday in the Divorce Court file.

Authorities speculated that Nieves may have tried to kill herself after killing her children. The role, if any, of her son in the deaths was unclear. Penny Lucia said relatives told her that the 14-year-old and his mother were found by police in opposite ends of the home.

Friends of the family expressed shock at the killings. They described Sandi Nieves as a good parent, close to her children and a devout Mormon.

Pat Rogers, a neighbor and friend who lived across the street from the family in Perris, said she last spoke to Sandi about three months ago, shortly before Nieves left the neighborhood.

"She had just pulled away from everyone. She was very confused and very mixed up about a lot of things, but her kids were everything to her," Rogers said. "Maybe the threat of losing custody might have pushed her over the edge.

"I don't know where the truth is . . . when you do something like that. If she, in fact, did that, that is not the Sandi I knew," Rogers said. "Something snapped somewhere."

Carol Jernigan, who lives across the street from the family's home, said: "To sit back and think about this mother planning this is hard to imagine. I can't believe a mother would do this to her own children."

Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein and correspondents Richard Winton and Darrell Satzman contributed to this story.



Sandi Nieves

 

Sandi Nieves

 

Sandi Nieves

 

 

 
 
 
 
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