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  • Tags: 1976-1981 (Enslavement period)
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Maria

Maria Suarez marks the turning-point in her decades-long journey from slavery to freedom as the moment when a bird knocked at her window. She had no idea she about to be freed, but when the bird came she knew that she “was going to have some good news.” She waited, and minutes later officials told her she was going to be free. At the age of 15, in 1976, Maria immigrated legally to the US from Michoacan, Mexico, with her father. She was soon approached on the street in Los Angeles by a woman offering work as a cleaner. But instead the woman sold her to 68-year-old Anselmo Covarrubias for $200, and Covarrubias made her his domestic slave. For five years he held her in bondage in his house in the Los Angeles suburb of Azusa, raped and beat her, and threatened her with black arts wizardry. Maria believed that he read her mind, possessed her soul, and would hurt her family if she told anyone about the abuse. In August 1981, Covarrubias was bludgeoned to death with a table leg by Pedro Soto, who was renting a converted garage on the property. Maria washed the weapon and hid it under the house, as directed by Soto. She was arrested, along with Soto and his wife. Soto was convicted of first-degree murder, and his wife was convicted of soliciting murder and being an accessory to a felony. Maria was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, sentenced to 25 years to life, and incarcerated at the California Institution for Women in Corona. Officials eventually confirmed that she suffered from battered woman’s syndrome — allowed as a legal defense in California after in 1992 — and she was paroled in 2003, after five years in slavery, and 22.5 years in prison. But Maria still wasn’t free: according to federal law, non-citizens convicted of violent crimes must be deported upon their release, and she was taken directly to a federal detention facility. She spent more than five months fighting deportation, then was certified as a trafficking victim eligible for a T-visa—a new status for victims of slavery and trafficking in the US. She was freed in May 2004.