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Utahn to die for stabbing 2 Nevada girls

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Beau Santino Maestas

Beau Santino Maestas

LAS VEGAS — A jury decided Tuesday that a 22-year-old Utah man should die by lethal injection for brutally stabbing two little girls left alone in a trailer outside a Mesquite casino in 2003.

Beau Santino Maestas sat silently, blinked twice and kept his eyes downcast as the verdict was read. Maestas, who only recently apologized for the knife attack, had said the stabbings were revenge for a drug rip-off. He pleaded guilty in May 2005 to murder and attempted murder.

"This is a tragic case, for those poor girls and for Beau," defense lawyer Thomas Ericsson said after Maestas was led away in shackles. Ericsson had tried to convince the jury of seven women and five men that Maestas had such a horrific childhood that he should be spared the death penalty.

He will become the 82nd person on Nevada's death row when he is formally sentenced Aug. 30 by Clark County District Judge Donald Mosley.

Maestas admitted killing 3-year-old Kristyanna Cowan and stabbing Cowan's half-sister, 10-year-old Brittney Bergeron. Brittney was left paralyzed from the waist down in the Jan. 22, 2003, attack.

A trauma surgeon said Brittney had been stabbed 20 times, including wounds that severed her spine. Kristyanna died of multiple stab wounds to the head, throat and back.

Maestas, who was 19 at the time of the killing, and his 16-year-old sister, Monique Maestas, were accused of forcing their way into the trailer and attacking the girls after the girls' mother, Tamara Bergeron, and her then-boyfriend, Robert Schmidt, sold the Maestas pair salt in place of methamphetamine.

Brittney's pluck and persistence as she teetered near death, then slowly recovered, riveted a region mortified by the bloody attack and appalled by allegations that the girls had been left alone while their drug-addicted mother and her boyfriend gambled at the casino.

The case spawned criminal charges against the mother and boyfriend, prompted efforts by the state to sever the mother's parental rights, and led to two penalty trials for Maestas. A jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of the death penalty in June 2005, prompting Mosley to declare a mistrial.

Jury selection was due to begin Tuesday afternoon for Monique Maestas, now 20. She has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder and could face life in prison. If convicted, she won't face the death penalty because she was a juvenile at the time of the attack.

Tamara Bergeron and Schmidt, who now are married, denied the drug sale allegations. They were sentenced to prison last year for leaving the two girls alone in the trailer.

Prosecutors brought some jurors to tears last week as they read a jailhouse letter in which Beau Maestas wrote of "slaughtering those little piggies" and described Kristyanna's "little body hanging eye-level from a knife that's half her size that's in my bloody hand."

Brittney Bergeron did not testify in the penalty trial, but jurors viewed a video of her struggling to get in and out of her wheelchair. Now 14 and living with a foster mother, she is an honor roll student involved in wheelchair sports and preparing to go to high school.

Prosecutor David Schwartz said Brittney is expected to testify in Monique Maestas' trial, during which defense lawyers are expected to argue that she was a bystander.

Beau Maestas had sought to take full responsibility, and his lawyers say he was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the attack.

His oldest sister, Misty Maestas, told the jury that Beau Maestas was the product of an extraordinarily troubled upbringing.

She said her brother was conceived during a conjugal visit between his drug-dealing mother and his father, a twice-convicted killer who spent almost all of his adult life in Utah prisons.