It’s been more than two years since Kyleigh Sousa died after being dragged and run over by a car while walking with a group of friends on the Arizona State University campus, but she still is well remembered.
Her family as well as people who worked with Sousa, 21, a waitress at Tempe’s Tavern on Mill, 404 S. Mill Ave., still finds it rough to remember what happened on May 26, 2010.
Though there is at least some relief in knowing that justice has been served, and the man responsible for Sousa’s death is facing 25 years to life in prison for the crime, for Kyleigh’s family, just half the battle is over.
On Monday morning, Joseluis Marquez, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery in Maricopa County Superior Court after a jury deliberated for about 45 minutes. Marquez will be sentenced on Dec. 14, when Sousa’s family plans to speak in the courtroom.
Police say that about 2 a.m. May 26, 2010, Marquez was driving a champagne-colored 2008 Charger in front of an International House of Pancakes near campus when he grabbed Sousa’s purse and drove off as her arm was tangled in the purse straps. Sousa was dragged after falling hard to the ground and under the car.
Sousa, an aspiring trial attorney, died at a nearby hospital from blunt force trauma and severe head injuries before her family members could fly to Arizona from her home state of New Jersey.
“It’s a little bit of a relief that he is gone and will be gone for a long time,” said Kyleigh’s mother’s, Karen Montenegro. “As a family, that’s the conviction we wanted. We felt that the details of the case were strong enough to get a first-degree murder conviction, the way it should’ve been. We thank the prosecutor (Maricopa County Deputy Prosecutor Jason Kalish) and the jury. We’ll definitely be back for the sentencing, when I’ll have my chance to speak to him (Marquez).”
Sousa’s older brother, Bernie Sousa, said the family will push for a sentence that would not allow any early release or parole for Marquez.
“We’re still facing half the battle,” Bernie Sousa said. “We still want to make sure he never breathes a breath of fresh air again. When that happens, we’ll feel justice. It’s still an unfinished battle, and we won’t feel true satisfaction until he receives a sentence without parole.”
“The fact that he (Marquez) never showed remorse, shows what kind of character he is,” Sousa added.
John Ambriz, the general manager of the Tavern on Mill who has worked at the bar and eatery most of its eight years in operation, said he had been following Marquez’s trial, and was relieved to hear on Monday that Marquez will be behind bars for a long time. For the last two years, the Tavern on Mill has held fundraisers in May for the Kyleigh Sousa Foundation.
“I’m happy that someone has been found guilty, and hoping that Kyleigh’s family will find comfort in knowing that some justice has been done,” Ambriz said. “It’s been rough, especially the first year after Kyleigh’s death. When she went to work here, she became a part of the team, a member of the family right away. She was always smiling and she was never down.”
A few of Sousa’s friends have graduated and others have moved on, and for some, it’s just too tough to go back inside the Tavern on Mill where Sousa waited on tables and served drinks with a smile while carrying a positive attitude.
About a year after Sousa’s death, Brian Hanlon, an artist dubbed as “New Jersey’s Sculptor” of Hanlon Sculpture Studios in Toms River, N.J., close to Sousa’s hometown, produced a slightly larger than life-size bronze sculpture that will be dedicated at her grave site in The Greenwood Cemetery in Brielle, N.J., near Kyleigh’s hometown of Point Pleasant, N.J., possibly this year.
Sousa’s family also formed a foundation in Kyleigh’s name (www.kyleighsousafoundation.org) that raises money for families who have lost young loved ones to crime.
Police said Marquez, a transient, who was living in California and also sometimes with his mother in north central Phoenix, was identified by a picture taken by a photo radar camera in Tempe after the car matched the description of the one at the scene of the crime.
A witness who was in the car later contacted police and identified Marquez as the car’s driver.
Marquez was arrested on Dec. 7, 2010 and he was indicted by a grand jury. The other four occupants in the car were not charged, but all identified Marquez as the driver who grabbed Sousa’s purse and testified that they were unaware he was going to do what he did.
Montenegro said she was disappointed that the passengers were not charged, but they have to look at the important thing, and that is the person responsible for Kyleigh’s death was caught.
Ambriz went on to say that what was really sad about the outcome was, “Kyleigh was nice to everyone, including to the person who did that to her. She would talk to anybody, and look what happened.”
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