A pair of guilty verdicts were handed down on Friday afternoon by a Colleton County, South Carolina jury against two defendants charged with murder in connection with the 2019 death of 13-year-old Cristina Pangalangan of Walterboro, S.C.
Cristina died on August 5, 2019 after she was left unattended inside her mother’s 2012 Volkswagen Jetta for an estimated five hours – with temperatures within the vehicle climbing as high as 130 degrees. As first responders arrived on the scene and found the young girl non-responsive, Cristina’s mother Rita Pangalangan – a local school teacher – claimed she had only left her daughter in the car for a few minutes while she went inside her boyfriend’s home to get her cigarettes.
Rita Pangalangan claimed she and her boyfriend – 45-year-old Larry King, Jr. of Walterboro – found the girl locked inside the car.
Home security footage seized from the King’s home told a very different story. Specifically, it showed Pangalangan and King putting the Cristina in the vehicle at approximately 11:15 a.m. EDT and leaving her there for approximately an hour while they went inside King’s home. After checking on her briefly, the couple reentered King’s home where they stayed there for another three hours – at which point they departed the residence in King’s truck, leaving Cristina unattended in the vehicle for yet another hour.
That video footage – which was entered into evidence and shown in court this week – proved some of the most damning evidence against Pangalangan and King. In addition to showing King putting Cristina in the car, the footage showed the couple debating whether or not to break a window to gain access to her after discovering the keys were locked in the car.
Ultimately, they decided to do nothing except to call first responders – by which point it was too late.
Prior to the incident, the S.C. Department of Social Services (SCDSS) received multiple complaints against Rita Pangalangan – including one less than three months before her daughter died.
Cristina was born with developmental and intellectual disabilities so severe she was wheelchair bound and unable to communicate verbally. She required constant care. As S.C. fourteenth circuit solicitor Duffie Stone said, she was “completely dependent” on her mother – a former teacher of the year at a local school.
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What did King and Pangalangan do while Cristina sat in her mother’s Jetta? According to his testimony, they had sex and did meth. Rita Pangalangan was expected to take the stand on Friday, but decided against it at the last minute.
“She can’t scream and she can’t talk, but she can show emotion,” Stone said in his closing argument – emphasizing Cristina endured a “tortuous death of extreme pain and suffering.”
Murder by definition in South Carolina means the act is committed with malice. Defense attorneys argued that standard was not met.
John Loy, King’s attorney, said unlike Cristina’s mother he had no legal obligation to the child. He encouraged jurors to consider King separately and realize he committed no crime. Building on a comment Stone made – “they may have thought the air conditioner was on” – Loy said the very statement argued reasonable doubt, which would have been grounds for an acquittal.
Jurors were having none of it – returning guilty verdicts in less than three hours.
King was sentenced to 32 years in prison by S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman on his murder charge. Pangalangan was sentenced to 37 years in prison on her murder charge.
“Oh my God,” she said as the sentence was announced.
Prior to deliberations, Rita Pangalangan’s defense attorney – Dayne Phillips – made a motion for a mistrial, claiming the prosecution used inadmissible evidence to make their case and that the solicitor went too far in riling up the emotions of jurors in his closing arguments.
Judge Newman described the crime as “terrible, almost unimaginable.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher, and author whose investigative work can be found in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world – most recently in the Parisian newspaper Le Monde and a German documentary for ProSieben. Lyons also appears in Citizen Sleuth – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.
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