Jury finds couple guilty in death of 13-year-old in Colleton County

Published: Sep. 1, 2023 at 8:10 PM EDT
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COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - A jury found Rita Pangalangan and Larry King guilty of murder in the 2019 death of 13-year-old Cristina Pangalangan.

Rita Pangalangan was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to 37 years and great bodily harm and was sentenced to 20 years, which will be served concurrent, with credit for time served, which is 39 days.

Larry King was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to 32 years and great bodily harm and was sentenced to 20 years, and will be served concurrent to each other.

Pangalangan and King were also each charged with a count of committing a crime with another person. But, the jury found each not guilty of conspiracy.

The jury asked two questions, each about specifics of the charges against the couple, during their more than two hours of deliberation. After hearing the guilty decision for murder, Rita Pangalangan gasped ‘Oh my God’ out loud and doubled over, racked with sobs.

On Aug. 5, 2019, Cristina died after she spent more than five and a half hours alone sitting in the backseat of her mother Rita’s car.  The car was parked outside of Rita’s boyfriend, Larry King’s home.  Cristina had cerebral palsy and her condition meant she could not speak or walk by herself.

The state prosecution by Solicitor Duffie Stone and Deputy Solicitor Sean Thornton spent the first days of the week building their case.  They argued that the couple deliberately left the disabled girl in the car ‘like baggage.’ Investigators testified that the couple tested positive for meth on the day of the incident.  

The jury was able to watch a security video from King’s house that shows the car for the entire four hours that Cristina sat in the back and all the activity of the couple around the car.

The defense countered in the days after by arguing that the entire situation was a tragic accident. Larry King testified that the car was running when he put Cristina in the backseat. Rita Pangalangan did not testify, which is her right. 

One of Cristina’s daughters, Elizabeth Clyde, emotionally testified on behalf of her mother through tears at times.

“My mom, she loved Cristina so much and she’s a good mom. She would often say that God created her to be Cristina’s mom because she was tough and she could handle it.  And she loved Cristina so much, she loved her so much,” Clyde said.

Clyde described her mother as devoted to Cristina. Some of Rita’s other children and family members are attending the trial but sitting behind the prosecution to express their support for Cristina.

“We got the walker for her even though insurance wouldn’t pay for it, they said it was cosmetic, so mom would work extra tutoring jobs, she would clean houses, she made sure Cristina had whatever she needed. Because the insurance often dubbed something unnecessary or cosmetic so she made sure Cristina had above and beyond what she needed,” Clyde said.

Clyde said she and Cristina were close despite their 13-year age difference. Rita Pangalangan silently cried and held a tissue to her face during her daughter’s testimony.

“She loved her. Cristina was her whole world.  And she has not been the same – every single day we’ve lived with missing Cristina,” Clyde said.

In the state’s closing however, Solicitor Stone leaned heavily into the timeline of the day showing the couple around the car multiple times before Cristina was taken out.  He described how murder does require ‘malice’ in the situation and took his time explaining how he sees malice in this case.

“Malice is actions and conduct so reckless as to show a disregard to human life. So the question you have here is what did they do to show disregard for human life. And the answer is everything. Everything!” Stone said.

In his closing, he also went into detail about how Cristina was dependent on others completely because of her condition.  He reminded the jury that while Cristina could not talk or walk, she was able to express emotions and feelings.

“The defense attorney got up and said everybody in South Carolina knows if you put a child in a car in direct sunlight in August, they are going to die. Right! That is a disregard for human life,” Stone said. “In fact, it would be better and easier if you went through and tried to find a time in which they actually showed you some regard for that human’s life, but you won’t find any because it’s not there,”

The prosecution again showed crime scene photos of Cristina, describing her burns and wounds from being in the car for more than five hours on an August day.

“In the real world talking to friends and family describing all of this, you might use the word torture. In this courtroom today, I ask you to use the word murder,” Stone said.

Larry King’s defense team, headed by Gil Gatch, closed by saying King had no legal responsibility to Cristina, testified that the car was running and was part of a terrible situation, but not a murder.

“I understand the state is outraged. This never should have happened the way it did. But Mr. King did not kill anybody,” his defense team said.

During his closing, Rita Pangalangan’s lawyer Dayne Phillips brought Rita up to stand face to face with the jury. As he asked them to look at the defendant, Rita stood racked with sobs and could be heard crying.

“This is this woman’s life.  This is this woman’s freedom. And I’m not saying she did everything right, because God knows she didn’t. And you can be angry at Rita out here, but you can’t do it in there,” Phillips said.

Rita returned to her seat and pulled more tissues to dab her eyes, as she has multiple times throughout the trial.

Despite these pleas – the verdict was guilty of murder and inflicting bodily harm to a child.

During a courtroom break late into the last day of the trial, Larry King spent time talking to his family members seated behind him.  Rita Panagalangan also spent a long moment embracing her daughter who testified on her behalf, along with other family seated behind her. 

Even later, the members of Rita’s family sitting behind the prosecution spent time talking to and consoling each other through the emotional day.