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Family asks for justice

POSTED November 29, 2011 8:05 p.m.

Through choked back tears and quavering voices, the family of a slain Hughson man made an emotional appeal to a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge to send a convicted murderer to prison for the rest of his life.

The family of Donald Futch delivered victim impact statements to the court Tuesday in the hopes of obtaining a lengthy prison term for Darren Merenda, 32, of Turlock.

The sentencing hearing for Merenda is set for a later date, but the 13 statements delivered by Futch’s family members were recorded on video to be used during the hearing.

The waves of grief and despair that have rippled through the lives of Futch’s family were evident from their heartfelt narratives about the void caused by Futch’s violent and untimely death.

“Every day I see my children go through the pain of not having their father around,” said Alicia Quiroz, Futch’s ex-wife and mother of his four children. “All we have are our memories. That’s what he (Merenda) has reduced him to — just a memory.

For 15-year-old Taylor Futch, the victim’s daughter, Tuesday’s hearing was a chance to address the man convicted of killing her father.

“Don’t forget my face. Don’t forget the sound of my cries,” an emotional Taylor said to Merenda. “I hope they stay with you forever.”

As the family members took their turn speaking they crafted a portrait of a caring father and a man beloved by many, whose life and death have left an indelible impact. Futch’s mother, Donna Butcher, said she moved from San Jose to Hughson to be close to her grandchildren and support them the way her son would have. In her statement she lamented all the graduations, homecomings, football games, weddings, births and other milestones her son will miss.

“Watching them grow up without their father is heartbreaking,” she said.

Merenda sat silently staring straight ahead as the statements were given by the family members.

Merenda was found guilty in October of first-degree murder for the 2009 stabbing death of Futch. He is facing a possible sentence of 25 years to life.

During the trial the prosecution portrayed Merenda as a man desperate to win back the affections of Brooke Barker, a woman he briefly dated and who had moved on to a relationship with Futch.

Hours before the fatal confrontation Merenda had seen Barker and Futch out at a Turlock bar. Around 2:30 a.m. Sept. 12, 2009, Merenda sent a text to Barker questioning why she ignored him at the bar. When the first text went unanswered, Merenda sent another text around 3:30 a.m., which prompted Futch to send a terse reply about the inappropriateness of texting Barker so late at night. This set of a volley of texts and phone calls between the two men that led to them agreeing to meet in the parking lot of the Colorado Avenue apartment complex to settle the matter.

Through his own testimony, Merenda admitted to arming himself with a dagger before leaving his apartment.

Barker testified in the trial that after speaking briefly in the parking lot the two men moved toward an alley and she saw Merenda bring out a dagger and attack Futch. Merenda claimed it was Futch who attacked him and that he was just trying to defend himself.

Futch sustained 11 stab wounds during the attack. A forensic pathologist testified one of the wounds severed Futch’s heart — a detail that has haunted his son Elias Futch.

“My father had the biggest heart and he literally cleaved it in two,” Elias said in his statement.

Merenda was arrested shortly after encounter with Futch’s blood still on his clothes.

During the trial Merenda took the stand in his own defense and testified that he felt threatened by Futch and took the dagger with him as a precaution. Merenda was represented by public defender Saul Garcia during the trial. Garcia called his client an “insecure man” whose false sense of bravado wouldn’t allow him to back down. He tried to make that argument that the jury should opt for a conviction on a lesser charge of second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.

Ultimately, the jury of six men and six women sided with the prosecution’s theory that Merenda killed Futch because he was jealous of the affection Barker was lavishing on Futch.

Merenda is now being represented by attorney Kirk McAllister, who has raised the possibility of filing a motion to have the verdict invalidated and the case retried. Merenda and his family had tried to bring McAllister on as his attorney prior to the start of the trial and asked for a continuance. The request was denied in part because it was believed a witness who was serving overseas was only going to be available for a short time. As it turned out, the witness was never in the States and was not sent back by the army to testify.

The motion for a new trial could be filed on or after Merenda’s next court appearance on Dec. 14.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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