LAS VEGAS – The teenage daughter of a Las Vegas woman who died after an illegal buttocks enhancement surgery said Thursday there will be no justice for her mother's death after prosecutors worked out a plea deal with the unlicensed doctor and nurse who performed the procedure.
Janet Villalovos told The Associated Press she begged prosecutors not to allow Ruben Matallana-Galvas and Carmen Torres-Sanchez to plead guilty Thursday to reduced charges. The deal would let them avoid a trial in the death of her mother, Elena Caro, 42.
The husband and wife pleaded guilty to manslaughter, conspiracy and practicing medicine without a license in Las Vegas. They each face up to nine years in prison and fines of up to $12,000, but Caro's relatives expressed concern that the court would be lenient on the couple. Sentencing was scheduled for Oct. 6.
Matallana-Galvas and Torres-Sanchez were running an illegal cosmetic surgery business in the back room of a Las Vegas tile shop when they injected Caro with an unknown substance, then showed her out the door in April, prosecutors said. She was found in agony hours later, roaming the streets miles from the makeshift clinic.
An autopsy showed Caro died from an allergic reaction to the anesthesia commonly used in cosmetic surgery procedures. Matallana-Galvas' lawyer, Scott Coffee, said the unlicensed doctor wanted to plead guilty to accept responsibility for not providing Caro with better care.
Villalovos said the couple showed no remorse in court, with Torres-Sanchez even smiling at one point.
The girl said prosecutors did not inform her family that the state had been working toward a plea deal based on the reduced charges. The Colombian couple initially pleaded not guilty to murder in May and was scheduled to stand trial in February. Under the plea deal, they withdrew their not guilty pleas.
Once Villalovos learned of the deal, she said she implored prosecutors to move forward with the trial and pursue the maximum penalty under the law.
"I told him, 'Imagine it was your mother,'" said Villalovos, Caro's only child. "It's just not fair. They aren't really being punished."
Coffee said prosecutors were tough, but fair on the couple. He said he will ask during the sentencing hearing that his client be released and put on probation because the death was ruled an accident.
"It's a fair resolution for everyone involved and that doesn't always happen in the criminal system," Coffee said. "The fact is, this was an accident by anyone's estimation. This was certainly not a willful, intentional, deliberate killing in in any shape."
More than 20 of Caro's relatives, most of them children, donned shirts that read "Justice for Elena Caro," outside the Las Vegas courthouse during the plea hearing. Some of the teenage girls in the huddle began to cry when they were told of the agreement.
"They let her die, and they aren't going to pay for it," said Maria Caro, the victim's younger sister. "They did kill her."
Other family members said they were most upset that Matallana-Galvas, 55, and Torres-Sanchez, 47, didn't call 911 to seek help for Caro after it became clear something had gone wrong.
"They made her suffer," said Ernesto Caro, the victim's brother. "They left her in the street to die, and now they aren't even being charged with murder."
He said there was sufficient witness testimony and evidence to find the couple guilty during a trial, rendering the plea deal unnecessary.
Matallana-Galvas, a homeopathic doctor in Colombia, spoke during the court hearing only to acknowledge he was pleading guilty of his free will.
Torres-Sanchez elaborated, saying she was responsible for marking up Caro's body in preparation for the buttocks injection. She said she watched as her husband gave Caro the injection.
The woman said she worked as an economist and civil rights lawyer in her native Colombia until her recent move to the United States.
"Culpable," she said in Spanish, acknowledging her guilt when asked about the manslaughter charge.
Villalovos said she and her mother were not aware that Matallana-Galvas was not a licensed doctor, although his office walls did not bear any certificates, licenses or diplomas.
A week before her death, Caro had received facial injections from Matallana-Galvas. When no problems arose, she returned for the buttocks injection.
Villalovos said she is still recovering from her mother's death.
"I miss her a lot," she said.
Cristina Silva can be reached at http://twitter.com/cristymsilva
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