PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Rachel Pedroso had not seen her father since a bloody night at a crowded restaurant in 1992 until she swiveled Wednesday in a Philadelphia courtroom and eyed the graying defendant.
"This is my first time seeing him in 23 years," she testified in her father's murder trial. "(There's been) no talk, nothing."
Santiago Pedroso, 73, was convicted Wednesday in a Father's Day rampage that left his ex-wife's dinner companion dead. The self-described spiritualist, who ran a religious goods store in Philadelphia, soon fled and started a new life in the Philippines with a new wife and two children.
Pedroso had suspected his ex-wife was having an affair with her best friend, Delores Alvarez. The Pedrosos — long divorced, but reunited for a time — had split again the month before when Alvarez came from California for a visit.
"He was angry about the rumors that this was a woman, that Delores wanted to take my mom away from him," Rachel Pedroso, 40, testified.
She was 17 at the time and did not know if that was true. But she said the rumored lesbian lifestyle did not fly with her father, whose globe-trotting life began in conservative Cuba in 1941.
Pedroso was quickly sentenced Wednesday to life in prison. Common Pleas Judge Glenn Bronson called the crime "an outrageous, cowardly assassination of a defenseless woman" and said he was sorry that Pedroso had enjoyed his freedom for so long.
Authorities believe he spent time in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela before settling in the Philippines.
For reasons that will remain unclear — Pedroso declined to testify in his own defense — he walked into a U.S. Embassy in Manila in 2013 to try to get a U.S. passport. The June 22, 1992, arrest warrant turned up, and he was soon back in Philadelphia in handcuffs.
His attorney asked the jury to consider a crime-of-passion defense and convict Pedroso, if anything, of manslaughter.
"There's no way the defendant could have known that Ms. Alvarez and his wife were going to show up there that night. They show up unexpectedly, and his demeanor immediately changes," defense lawyer Richard Giuliani argued.
However, the jury returned a verdict after less than an hour of deliberations.
During that time, Rachel Pedroso asked to meet with her long-gone father. They talked behind glass in a small holding area.
He did not apologize for the lost years, but instead asked her to help his new children.
"He said he had little ones in the Philippines, and one in Venezuela," she said. "I'm going to try to help them."
Santiago Pedroso may have feared his ex-wife and Alvarez were planning to take Rachel back to California, where Alvarez worked for Hughes Aircraft.
"He was just very upset, and hurt and distraught, and kind of didn't know what was going on, like me," Rachel Pedroso testified.
She moved to the West Coast and tried to block out any memories of their last day together. Her mother, Maria Jesus Gomez, died this past year.
In a disquieting moment for prosecutors, she told jurors Wednesday that she had not witnessed the shooting because she was by the front door.
But she acknowledged that her police statement that night said otherwise. And she recalled how she and her father immediately left the restaurant when the women walked in, and how she tried to stop him from returning from his nearby home with a gun.
"Poppy, please no. Don't do this," she told him as he raced down the street, according to her police statement.
"I wasn't able to stop him," she recalled anew Wednesday. "He just kept going."