The man who tortured, starved, and murdered a toddler and her brother in a Salinas home was sentenced by a judge Wednesday to serve three life sentences in prison.
Gonzalo Curiel was 17 years old when he and his then-girlfriend murdered Shaun Tara, 7, and Delylah Tara, 3.
Monterey County prosecutors put Curiel on trial as an adult, his defense attorney never called for a single witness, and the jury swiftly found him guilty on all counts.
On Wednesday, Judge Pamela Butler told Curiel that he never deserves to walk free again.”The cruelty exhibited, the intentional torture, the beatings, starvings, the efforts to exert authority and control, are really reflective of a ruthlessness that is rarely seen,” Butler said.
“Regardless of how you behave in state prison, regardless of what you do to better yourself, you should never get out of state prison. The only just sentence is that you spend the rest of your life in prison,” she told Curiel.
When asked by the judge if he wanted to say anything, Curiel replied, “No.”
Butler said, “Most people want to intellectually understand why a crime happens. It’s human nature. This case defies that.”
The judge pointed out that Curiel has yet to show any remorse
Curiel’s co-defendant, Tami Huntsman, was also sentenced to spend the rest of her life behind prison bars.
Huntsman’s ex-husband, Chris Criswell, said Huntsman and Curiel both deserved the death penalty.
“(Curiel) had a weird look in his eyes from the beginning. He had a weird blank stare, like he had no soul, like he could kill someone and not think twice,” Criswell told KSBW.
Curiel showed very little emotion in court throughout his trial. During his sentencing Wednesday, he swiveled in his chair and glanced up at a clock a few times.
Because of a new state law for minors who commit crimes, Curiel will be eligible to appear before a parole board in 25 years.
The three Tara siblings had been sent by their father to live with Huntsman, Criswell, and Huntsman’s three children in an apartment at 501 Fremont St. in Salinas.
After Criswell discovered that Huntsman was having a sexual affair with Curiel, Criswell left town, and Curiel became the male authority of the home.
The Tara siblings’ 12-year-old sister, Jane Doe, told a jury how life at home changed with Curiel in charge. A bathroom was used as a torture chamber for children.
“She and her siblings were punched, choked, kicked, hit with belts and other objects, refused food, zip tied to their beds or chairs, and locked in a dark, cold, cement bathroom, often without their clothes, for hours or even days. The children did not understand why they were being punished. They were forced to sit still in a corner that her torturers selected for them, and were prohibited from moving, crying, or huddling together for warmth,” the District Attorney’s Office wrote.
Monterey County CPS agents were called to the Fremont Street apartment multiple times in 2015 because of suspected child neglect.
CPS social worker Lauren McFarlin wrote that she was not able to complete a “risk and safety assessment” of the children’s well being because “the family became evasive.”
“It is unknown if there are imminent safety threats as this (agent) was unable to complete the child welfare assessment,” McFarlin wrote.
McFarlin recommended that her agency take no action.
In the wake of Shaun and Delylah’s deaths, multiple investigations, including one by the California Department of Social Services, have been conducted to find out what went wrong.
The surviving Tara sibling wrote a letter to the court forgiving Huntsman and Curiel.
“It’s not good to dislike someone for a long time. So at this time, I would love to say I forgive Tami Huntsman and Gonzo (Gonzalo) Curiel for their actions,” she wrote.
“I wanted my sister and brother to know what life meant. Not the meaning of being hurt, sad, and killed. What I miss about Shaun was his (style), laugh, character, and his man walk, plus he was smart. He was the best brother I could have. He would never let me down. (Delylah) was the prettiest sister I ever seen,” Jane Doe wrote.
The Monterey County District Attorney’s previous press release about the case is below:
“Tami Joy Huntsman, 42, of Salinas, was sentenced by Judge Pamela Butler for two counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances and two counts of torture in the November 2015 deaths of Shaun Tara, Jr., age 7, and Delylah Tara, age 3.
Huntsman also pled guilty to one count of torture and one count of child abuse causing great bodily injury, and two counts of conspiracy, for the abuse she inflicted on the children’s half-sister, called “Jane Doe,” who was rescued by a Plumas County deputy at age 9.
Pursuant to the stipulated sentence, Judge Butler ordered Huntsman to serve two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole, three additional consecutive life terms, and 9 more years.
She has waived all writs and appeals and will never be released from prison.
Shaun, Delylah, and Jane Doe moved into Huntsman’s Salinas apartment in April 2014.
The children’s mother was killed in a car accident in December 2013 and their father, Tami’s cousin, was subsequently incarcerated, leaving him unable to care for them. Huntsman, then age 38, lived with her husband and their three biological children in a small apartment on Fremont St.
In November 2014, then-16-year-old Gonzalo Curiel, a friend of Huntsman’s oldest son, moved into their apartment. Shortly after moving in, Curiel began a sexual affair with Huntsman.
Huntsman’s husband left her when he discovered the affair. In April 2015, Huntsman’s oldest son was arrested and placed in a juvenile facility, leaving Curiel and Huntsman in charge of the household.
During Curiel’s trial, Jane Doe told the jury how things changed after Huntsman’s son’s incarceration. She testified that while the children were previously treated well, received enough food, and were not beaten, Curiel and Huntsman both began to physically abuse and starve them following the arrest of Huntsman’s son.
Jane Doe has related that she and her siblings were punched, choked, kicked, hit with belts and other objects, refused food, zip tied to their beds or chairs, and locked in a dark, cold, cement bathroom, often without their clothes, for hours or even days. The children did not understand why they were being punished.
When the children were locked in the bathroom, they were forced to sit still in a corner that her torturers selected for them, and were prohibited from moving, crying, or huddling together for warmth. If they were caught, Curiel and sometimes Huntsman would beat them or spray them with cold water.
Jane Doe tried to run away twice because of the abuse. On one occasion, after Curiel caught her trying to escape out the bathroom window, he and Huntsman pulled her into a bedroom and Curiel beat her with a belt while Huntsman held her down. During the beating, Jane Doe’s forearm and shoulder were injured. Huntsman and Curiel refused to get medical treatment for Jane Doe’s displaced shoulder and arm fractures, which caused them to heal improperly. A doctor found that Jane Doe’s broken shoulder bone was close to piercing through her skin at the time she was rescued.
Curiel and Huntsman also broke Jane Doe’s jaw and several of her fingers, which had healed improperly. Jane Doe saw her younger brother and sister with bruises and cuts all over their small bodies.
Jane Doe said that Curiel and Huntsman started feeding them less and less and eventually stopped feeding Jane Doe altogether, but she never knew why.
She testified that the children were often beaten for urinating on themselves because they were too scared to ask Huntsman and Curiel for permission to use the bathroom.
Investigators believe that Shaun and Delylah died around Thanksgiving 2015, from a combination of blunt-force trauma and severe malnutrition. Jane Doe remembers a severe beating in the bathroom, at which point she saw Shaun and Delylah unable to walk, talk, or open their eyes.
She overheard an argument between Curiel and Huntsman that night in which Curiel said it was all his fault and that he should just leave. Huntsman begged him to stay. Jane Doe never saw her brother or sister alive again.
Huntsman and Curiel told the other children and family members who asked, that Shaun and Delylah had been put up for adoption.
In fact, Huntsman and Curiel placed their dead bodies into a 35-gallon blue plastic storage container, put the container in the trunk of Huntsman’s SUV, and abruptly packed up and moved in the night to Northern California, never telling anyone that they planned to leave. Curiel and Huntsman traveled to several cities in the following weeks, including Dunnigan, Shingletown, Redding, Salinas and ultimately Quincy in Plumas County, where they stayed with a relative of Huntsman. That relative ultimately discovered that Jane Doe was a severely abused child, and she and another friend who verified the abuse called Plumas County Child Protective Services to report it.
On December 11, 2015, a deputy from Plumas County Sheriff’s Office discovered Jane Doe locked in Huntsman’s SUV, on the floor of the backseat, covered in a pile of clothing. She was bruised from head to toe, and her arm, shoulder, jaw and fingers were broken. Jane Doe also had pressure sores on her back and legs that a pediatric specialist stated she never sees in children who are able to walk.
The deputy arrested Huntsman and Curiel for child abuse.
Two days later, Huntsman’s mother called Plumas County Sheriff’s Office to inquire about Shaun and Delylah. The detective sergeant who spoke with her said that his office had no knowledge of who those children were. After a frantic, daylong search, authorities discovered that Huntsman had rented a storage unit at a Redding self-storage company on December 4, 2015.
It was inside that storage unit where Redding police officers found the decomposed bodies of Shaun and Delylah, still inside the blue storage container. Fingerprints on the container matched both Curiel and Huntsman.
Curiel’s fingerprints were found on a roll of duct tape in Huntsman’s SUV that matched duct tape on the container.
Huntsman’s co-defendant, Gonzolo Curiel’s jury trial began on April 2 and ended on April 23, following more than two weeks of testimony from 56 different witnesses. The jury deliberated for approximately one hour and 20 minutes before finding Curiel guilty on all counts.
Although Curiel will technically be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, recent legislation will allow him a mandatory parole hearing after serving 25 years of his life sentence because he was under the age of 18 at the time the murders were committed.
The successful prosecution of Curiel and Huntsman would not have been possible without the cooperation of the Shasta County District Attorney’s Office, Plumas County District Attorney’s Office, Salinas Police Department, Plumas County Sheriff’s Office, Redding Police Department, Shasta County Sheriff’s Office, Butte County Probation Department, and the Yuba City Police Department.
The lead investigators on the case were Christina Gunter of the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office and Detective Gabriel Gonzalez of the Salinas Police Department. The prosecutors also recognize Detective Sergeant Steven Peay, Detective Christopher Hendrickson and Deputy Tyler Hermann all from the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office for their extraordinary efforts to save Jane Doe and locate her siblings.”