During emotional hearing, wife of slain Bell Gardens mayor sentenced to jail time, probation in his killing

Daniel Nicholas Crespo described his father as a complicated man. He was the dedicated mayor of Bell Gardens — a leader with a capacity for good who loved to listen to the Bee Gees.

But he was also “a liar, a bully, a cheater” — a violent husband and father who abused his family with his hands and with his words, according to his son.

“He had a lot of demons,” Crespo said, “and unfortunately, the demons won.”

His statements came during an emotional hearing Friday, where Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy sentenced the 22-year-old’s mother, Lyvette Crespo, to 90 days in jail and five years’ probation for killing Daniel Crespo — her husband and the boy’s father.

The sentencing came after Lyvette Crespo, who told authorities that she was a battered wife and that she shot her husband to keep him from hurting their son, negotiated a plea deal with prosecutors.

In issuing her ruling, Kennedy called the couple’s relationship a “case study” in the “pain, hurt and scarring” caused by domestic violence.

“This was bound to end in tragedy,” she said. “I believe that she was abused throughout their marriage. I don’t think it warrants a prison sentence.”

Before the judge’s ruling, the mayor’s brother, William Crespo — who is suing his sister-in-law and has condemned her plea deal as too lenient — walked to the lectern. He wasn’t feeling well, so his civil attorney read a statement aloud.

“You can’t take the law into your own hands and that’s exactly what she did,” William Crespo wrote. “Lyvette chose to execute him in cold blood. Daniel was no angel but Lyvette surely is the devil.”

A few minutes later, the couple’s son addressed the court, saying he believed his mother had saved his life. Before the shooting, his father punched him in the face — since then, he told the judge, he’s had to wear eyeglasses. Eventually, the boy looked toward his mother.

“I’m sorry Mom,” he said. “I wish that I was stronger and that I could’ve done something to stop him. But this is our life now.”

A few minutes later, he addressed his uncle, saying, “You have no idea what my father did.”

William Crespo mumbled back: “Call 911 instead of shooting.”

Before issuing a ruling, Kennedy spoke directly to the couple’s son. “It wasn’t your fault,” she told him. “You did the best you could.”

The judge said that although Lyvette was “not Mother Teresa,” she believed Daniel “controlled all the levers in that relationship” and was “absolutely cruel to his wife.”

“It’s sort of hard to understand when someone looks from the outside. …They’d say, ‘Why didn’t she just get out? Why didn’t she leave him?’” Kennedy said. “But I’m familiar with the cycle of violence.”

Lyvette Crespo sobbed throughout the hearing, occasionally turning to look at her children. Before she was taken into custody, the judge addressed her, saying, “Good luck.”

In November, Crespo, 45, struck a deal with the district attorney’s office: In exchange for pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter, she was offered a 90-day jail sentence and five years’ probation.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Beth Silverman told reporters at the time that although the shooting was a crime, spousal abuse played a factor in her decision to offer Crespo a plea. “Not every case is deserving of the max sentence,” the prosecutor said.

As word spread about the Sept. 30, 2014, killing, theories began to swirl through the Southeast Los Angeles city. Was it a politically motivated hit, some wondered? The mayor had fielded his share of threats over the years, including the time the city canceled a public meeting after a man posted a picture on Facebook of a dead rat on top of a Crespo campaign sign.

So when the story line shifted to Crespo’s wife — his high school sweetheart — many in the community were stunned.

In extensive interviews after the shooting, Lyvette Crespo told sheriff’s investigators that she shot her husband in defense of her teenage son, who had intervened as the couple was fighting. She told investigators that she grabbed a handgun and shot the mayor after he punched their son in the face.

Sheriff’s officials at the time said that both Crespo and her son — who backed up his mother’s claim that she shot to save him —  had facial injuries requiring treatment. Seven months later, a grand jury indicted her for voluntary manslaughter in her husband’s slaying.

The homicide investigation trudged up details of a fractured, violent relationship.

Daniel Crespo had numerous affairs, which he sometimes went out of his way to rub in his wife’s face, according to grand jury testimony. 

He took a trip to Las Vegas with a girlfriend, presenting her with a ring for a faux wedding, and sent his wife an audio recording of him bragging to a colleague about his hook-ups. He rented out rooms in a six-bedroom home, but kept one free as a spot to meet up with women on lunch breaks. His wife knew about the room, nicknaming it the “man cave.”

Prosecutors also presented the grand jury with a series of angry text messages between the couple, including some in which Lyvette appeared to threaten her husband, according to the transcripts.

“I’ll find out who … u got flowers for. Has to be a bell gardens whore,” read one of the messages sent to Daniel Crespo’s phone months before the shooting.

Soon came a reply from his number: “It better [be the] last time U threaten to shoot me in [the] head!!!”

In another exchange — sent less than an hour before the shooting — Daniel Crespo wrote: “When I get home, let’s see how you will respond…. With the rage I have, woman, you shouldn’t be pushing my buttons.”

The couple’s son testified to the grand jurors, saying his father had long been violent — he’d seen his father push his sister against a closet with his hand around her neck and his mother punched in the face. The punching happened on a drive home from church, he said, because his father thought he caught Lyvette looking at another man.

marisa.gerber@latimes.com

For more news from the Los Angeles County courts, follow me on Twitter: @marisagerber

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UPDATES:

4:00 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information about the sentencing hearing and comments from Judge Kathleen Kennedy, Daniel Nicholas Crespo and William Crespo.

This article was originally published at 11:50 a.m.

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