Annamaria Magno Gana, who fatally shot her husband and tried to do the same to their two boys in their Tustin Ranch home on Mother's Day 2011, was sentenced today to 40 years to life in state prison. The 43-year-old received a cancer diagnosis that caused her to take out her 72-year-old husband, a retired Manila International Airport general manager, and to try to murder her sons, who were 16 and 9 then.
A jury found her guilty April 3 of one felony count each of special circumstances murder by lying in wait, two felony counts of attempted murder, and sentencing enhancements for the personal discharge of a firearm causing death and the personal discharge of a firearm causing great bodily injury.
She would have faced life in prison without the possibility of parole had Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh not moved to reduce the murder conviction to second-degree and remove the special circumstance, giving the defendant a slim chance at parole decades from now. The prosecutor explained he did so at the request of one of Gana's sons so he could tell him "there's hope,'' although "minimal,'' that she will be free one day.
Around 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 8, 2011, a gunshot was heard in the Gana home in the 18400 block of Manning Drive in unincorporated Tustin. Antonio Potenciano Gana and his teen son Jose rushed into a bedroom to discover their wife/mother had fired a round into the ceiling. She then turned the gun on her husband, said "Now!" and shot him in the chest.
As Jose turned to run, he was shot in the arm, but he managed to get out of the room and call 9-1-1 on his cell phone. The younger son, Alfonso, who is the hero of this tragedy, managed to wrestle the gun away from his mother and take it outside.
Just when it did not seem the case could get more bizarre, The Philippine Star reported four days after the shooting that Gana had converted to Islam before marrying her husband and that his first wife accused him of bigamy.
But during the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Mrs. Gana "selfishly decided to murder her family because she believed that that they couldn't live without her if she died and that if she was going to die, then they should all 'go together.'"
City News Service reporter Paul Anderson reported today on an emotional reunion between Gana, Jose, her mother and brother after Orange County Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno closed the courtroom following sentencing.
Wiping away tears, Jose Gana, who is now 18, told his mother during the hearing that he missed her.
The trial, he said, "has taken a heavy toll on me, Alfonso and grandma. ... It has also made me into the man I've become and the man I hope to be. I'd also like to add I do miss you mom.''
In an apparent reference to the defense's contention that she snapped under the pressure of cancer and the family's failing business, her son said, "I'm sorry that we weren't able to fulfill your every need.''
He added that "it saddens me that you haven't been able to watch Alfonso grow. He's a great basketball player, probably better than me. And you never met my girlfriend.''
The defendant sobbed as her son said, "I'm pretty sure I'll be fine,'' with support from family members.
Gana tearfully apologized for her crimes.
"I am deeply and truly sorry,'' she said. "I don't know if the nightmares or the sadness will ever go away.''
Evelyn Magno, who has been caring for her grandsons since the shootings, said her daughter's family was "very inseparable'' and did everything together.
She recalled how her slain son-in-law once told her that her daughter was the "perfect mother.''
"How could a beautiful family that seems so right just go wrong,'' Magno asked the judge as she pleaded with him to free her daughter.
"My grandsons ... lost their dad, but it would be worse if they lose their mother forever,'' Magno said.
"I don't know if this is right, but can I hug my daughter?'' she asked the judge.
Baytieh said he "never looked at her as an evil person,'' referring to what one of the victim's daughters told the judge in a letter. "I have prosecuted evil people and Ms. Gana is not one of them.''
Baytieh said, however, that Gana had to be held accountable for her actions because it is important to send a message to society that murder-suicide is "not a way out.''
Briseno received victim impact statements from two of Antonio Gana's daughters and a son from an earlier marriage that were read alound in court by Baytieh. They wrote the 73-year-old victim was a "disciplinarian'' but was also warm and compassionate.
"Being a military man, he was a firm disciplinarian, yet he was someone you would not be afraid of ... He was cool. I felt safe around him,'' daughter Regina Balagtas stated.
"We lost a good man, a loving father, a doting grandfather and a good friend,'' added another daughter, Maria Concepcion Gana.
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Jose Eduardo Gana noted he suffered a heart attack shortly after his father's slaying.
"Two years have passed and I am still struggling with my loss,'' he wrote. "The emotional stress is the hardest thing for me to deal with.''
Annamaria Gana told a sheriff's detective that she planned the murder-suicide for two weeks before the Mother's Day shooting. May 8, 2011, had started out normally, with her sons and husband giving her cards and gifts and friends dropping by to watch a Lakers game.