13 Investigates


Convicted killer in DUI crash puts family through repeat heartache with re-sentencing

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Posted at 6:39 PM, Jan 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-24 22:10:03-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Christa Puente made a video for a college class in May 2018.

She talked about how much she loved her job and the opportunity to help patients and their families in their darkest days.

A registered nurse, the 33-year-old worked in the cancer ward at MountainView Hospital.

Six days after she made the video, Christa and her husband, Damaso Puente, were killed when Henry Aparicio crashed into their car.

"My daughter and her husband were just sitting at the stoplight at Sahara and Hualapai," said Christa's mother, Diane Malone. "Just sitting there waiting for the light to change. And he rammed them at over 100 miles an hour. And he was four times the legal limit drunk."

That's the extrapolation based on a blood draw taken nearly five hours after the crash. At that time, he was just under three times the legal limit.

"He didn't even apply the brakes," Malone said. "He didn't even try to stop. And he mutilated them to death! My daughter was an organ donor. She couldn't even donate her organs because they were turned to mush. How does someone recover from that? It has just taken my heart and broken it to pieces."

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Christa and Damaso Puente

Not only will the Malone family never recover, they now have to relive the crime in court.

"All my life I thought the law was supposed to protect the innocent, but it's not... It's not," Malone said.

Henry Aparicio pleaded guilty and was convicted of two counts of DUI resulting in death and one count of felony reckless driving. He was sentenced to serve 15 to 44 years in prison, but he appealed the sentence.

The appeal went up to the Nevada Supreme Court, where justices recently ruled in his favor, granting him a new sentencing that could result in less time behind bars.

The reason lies in a series of letters.

"It's certainly the first time in my experience that I've ever seen something like this happen — for a sentencing to be redone because of letters that were written on behalf of the family," said Chief Deputy District Attorney Alex Chen.

Both Chen and Stop DUI's Sandy Heverly say what's happening with this case is unprecedented.

"It was difficult to understand, and I still don't understand it to this day," said Heverly. "Because the letters and the victim statements that were given were certainly within the parameters of what the law states and what it allows. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court saw it differently."

Court records show shortly before sentencing, the state provided approximately 50 victim impact letters written by family, friends, and coworkers of Christa and Damaso.

Aparicio's lawyers objected to 46 of the letters, arguing the people who wrote them did not legally qualify as victims.

"The letters expressed the family's pain as much as the families could express it themselves," Chen said. "Basically, the letters talked about how much sorrow this has caused for the parents of the victims and for the people who knew the victims. And that's pretty common in a sentencing."

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Christa and Damaso Puente

But in this case, the Supreme Court found the lower court abused its discretion by overruling Aparicio's objection and failing to determine if all the letters were "reliable and relevant."

"No amount of letters can change the facts of what he did," Malone said.

Though the conviction stands, the high court sent the case back for re-sentencing before a different District Court judge.

"When we passed the victim impact statement statute, it was to cover victims of all crime — not just DUI victims, but all crime. So, you can see that the possibility of this affecting other cases is certainly out there," Heverly said.

When Malone first found out that her family was going to have to relive the trauma, she went to the corner of Sahara Avenue and Hualapai Way to refresh the memorial that she first put there several years ago.

It includes a sign notifying the public about the new sentencing at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 25, and asking people to please come show support for justice.

"I have been sentenced to a lifetime of grief. And then he wants to get out," Malone said. "And that's not justice."

In the Supreme Court opinion, justices say nothing in their ruling should suggest a failure to protect victims’ rights during sentencing.

The opinion states: “We are required to vacate the sentence and remand this case, despite the inevitable pain and distress this will cause the surviving family members to again participate in a sentencing hearing, because it is not clear that the District Court would have imposed the same sentence absent these errors.”

MORE: Nevada Supreme Court rules no murder charges in deadly DUI cases

"What that tells me is that they are standing for the criminals and not the innocent victims," Malone said.

Tragedy for the Malone family runs unfathomably deep.

"I lost my first daughter in 1978. She was hit by a car. And I never got over that, either. Still, that pain is excruciating to me. And then now that Christa and Damaso have been killed in such an atrocious way, I can't... I can't heal anymore," Malone said.

In the re-sentencing, the court has broad discretion over what to do, up to and including letting Aparicio out with time served.

"In theory, it could happen, but it's not likely, I don't think," said Chen, "because that would be quite a drastic change from what he got sentenced to. But it is within the court's discretion to sentence him to something less."

Malone hopes these words from the statement she plans to read in court on Tuesday will ensure that doesn't happen:

"How can I possibly convey to you everything I believe I should say on Christa's behalf in few paragraphs, when even a series of books can't contain all the beauty and goodness that she was?" she wrote. "Both Christa and Damaso paid the ultimate price for Aparicio's atrocious crimes. He deserves to pay the ultimate price and he should be held accountable for his choices and his actions."

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