Grandmother gets 50 years to life in murder of son-in-law



A grandmother convicted of gunning down her son-in-law in his Fallbrook home was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison during an emotional hearing in Vista Superior Court.

The sentence means Cynthia Cdebaca, 65, will probably spend the rest of her life in custody. She was found guilty in February of first-degree murder in the death of Geoward Estaquio, who was married to her daughter.

Cdebaca has admitted shooting the 53-year-old about 8 a.m. on Feb. 11, 2014 — her 63rd birthday — after he made snide comments to her on the back patio of the family’s upscale home in a gated Fallbrook community.

She headed up to the granny flat where she lived, grabbed her gun and ambushed Estaquio as he carried laundry. During the 10 minute attack, she repeatedly emptied the five-shot gun — twice going to her car for more bullets.

With Estaquio dead on the kitchen floor, Cdebaca headed to a local diner for bacon and eggs. She then ditched the gun and spent a nearly two hours at a Temecula casino. Detectives found her later that afternoon at a Fallbrook coffee shop.

“The jury’s verdict was justified by the evidence in this case,” Superior Court Judge K. Mickael Kirkman said Thursday.

Before the sentence was handed down, Cdebaca briefly spoke — starting with “I’m real, real sorry,” — but she grew distraught and her words became difficult to hear.

Defense attorney William Stone said Cdebaca understands that “she is never going to get out of prison.” He noted her age and frail medical condition; she suffered a stroke on Sept. 11, 2001, and never fully recovered.

Stone has said on the day of the fatal shooting Cdebaca “snapped” after seeing her daughter and grandchildren — then 12 and 15 — repeatedly mistreated.

“This is not a case where she did this out of greed or self-interest,” Stone said in court Thursday. “She did it — in her mind — to protect her family.”

During trial, Cdebaca’s daughter, Laura Salinas, described the tension that existed in the family’s home. She said her husband physically and verbally assailed her, broke his teen son’s pricey electronics and sprayed family members with water if they misbehaved. Estaquio also threw out the urn containing the ashes of Cdebaca’s late husband.

“I just want to say that this is a tragedy,” Salinas said tearfully during Thursday’s sentencing hearing. “I love my mom and I love Geoward.”

She said both her family and her husband’s family have suffered.

“I am hoping that after today, we can move forward,” Salinas said.

Estaquio was the third of eight children in a tight-knit family, one that came together for reunions and laughter. Three of his siblings attended the hearing, including two from the East Coast.

His sister Geonisa Harris said her family now refers to events as “pre- or post-” her brother’s murder.

“This event has profoundly and fundamentally changed us,” Harris said.

In describing her brother, Harris used words like quick-witted, selfless and generous. She also said that “no one can or will take his vibrant spirit, his unwavering love for his family.”

No one can or will take his vibrant spirit, his unwavering love for his family.

— Geonisa Harris, sister of murder victim Geoward Estaquio

“His strict disposition was misunderstood,” Harris said.

Deputy District Attorney Keith Watanabe did not dispute the abuse allegations, but argued that Estaquio’s behavior was not life-threatening, and that Cdebaca’s actions were not justified — and that they were premeditated.

Three weeks before the shooting, she took target practice at an Oceanside shooting range.

The attack started on the back patio of the family’s large home in the gated Peppertree Park community in Fallbrook. At one point, likely during one of the two times the slow-moving Cdebaca went to her car to get more bullets, a wounded Estaquio crawled from the patio into the kitchen, locking the door behind him.

Cdebaca fired through the door glass, gaining entry to the kitchen, where she continued to shoot her son-in-law.

Of the 15 shots she fired, three went into the door. The other 12 struck Estaquio — one was a graze wound, but many of them hit his torso. Evidence indicates some of the shots came as he was crawling away.

Another of Estaquio’s sisters, Georanna Biroonak, said her brother had been “stolen” from her family “by a cold-blooded murderer.”

“She is an evil person who deserves every second behind bars,” Biroonak said.


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