Ricardo Alekzander Lara will be 57 years old when his father serves his full prison sentence. Until then, the 7-year-old boy will have to decide whether to visit the man who killed his mother, Maria Isabel Romero Medina, at her office in Denton.
It took a jury of four men and eight women more than four hours to decide whether to give Ricardo Alfonso Lara-Martinez a chance to see his son outside prison. After the jury found him guilty of murder on Monday in Judge Bruce McFarling's 362nd Judicial District Court, Lara-Martinez on Tuesday received a 50-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine. He will be eligible for parole after 25 years.
Lara-Martinez declined to testify during the trial.
"We think it's a fair verdict and it's a just verdict," Lara-Martinez's attorney, Derek Adame, said after the trial. "It took into account [Medina's] life, but I think it also took into account that, hopefully, the jury wanted him to have the chance to be out one day and make amends with his son somehow."
Lara-Martinez, 27, was convicted of beating and strangling Medina on Dec. 12, 2014, at Sanchez Insurance & Tax Services, on East McKinney Street in Denton. Authorities believed Lara-Martinez killed her over a disagreement about their then 4-year-old son, known as Alek.
Police said Alek had been a point of contention between the parents. Lara-Martinez, who shared custody of his son with Medina, was planning for a week to take the boy with him to Mexico to visit his ailing father. Hours after the killing, he and the boy crossed the southern U.S. border into Mexico, where Lara-Martinez remained until authorities extradited him in June 2017.
Alek is currently living with Medina's sister and brother in Aubrey. The killing and months-long search for the boy in Mexico shook family members, who breathed a collective sigh of relief when McFarling read Lara-Martinez's guilty verdict aloud on Monday.
Despite seeing the case to the end, some family members felt the sentence should have been longer.
"I will never see my sister's face again," said Angel Romero, Medina's 41-year-old brother, who helps care for Alek. "And when [Lara-Martinez] gets out, I may see his face walking on the street. He was the one to decide that — not my sister."
Another brother, Gabriel Romero, traveled from California to watch the proceedings. Before Lara-Martinez was escorted out of the courtroom, Gabriel Romero got the chance to directly address him from the witness stand.
"My family was torn apart because of your actions," he said. "I would really hope for you to get more time and for you to think about what you have done — not only to my family, or to me, but to someone you're supposed to love, Alek. I would expect you to at least apologize in some fashion."
When investigators found Medina's body in the insurance office on Dec. 13, 2014, Lara-Martinez had already arrived in Múzquiz, Mexico, with the boy. They boarded a bus for Mexico City hours before police started the investigation. The two were eventually located near Mexico City in February 2016, when authorities brought the boy home.
Medina's sister, Rosalba Antonio, held Alek in her arms on a private jet returning to Texas. Today, the family describes him as an energetic second-grader and soccer player with a vigorous imagination.
Angel Romero said he and Antonio want to instill the importance of family in the boy. They see him growing up and pursuing college, similar to his mother, who was taking classes at North Central Texas College at the time of her death. Regardless of his education, the siblings want to give their sister's child the tools to pursue whatever he wants to do.
"That's one thing that I think all of us have shared and said that she always said: I don't want him to ever have to worry," Angel Romero said through a translator. "I don't want him to have to second-guess whatever he wants to do with his life."
Alek already has a profound connection to his family, Romero said. He draws pictures of his cousins, aunts and uncles, and he loves to play with them.
About three months ago, Angel Romero said the boy built a castle out of cardboard boxes in their living room. When his uncle tried to go inside, Alek had already developed a strict security system.
"Give me the password," Alek said before revealing the secret word to his uncle.
JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882.
FEATURED PHOTO: Ricardo Lara-Martinez, middle, listens Monday afternoon during the sentencing phase of his murder trial in 362nd District Court at the Denton County Courts Building. Lara-Martinez was found guilty of killing his ex-girlfriend Maria Isabel Romero Medina in December 2014 in Denton. He was sentenced Tuesday to 50 years. Jake King/DRC