FAIRFAX, Va. — A Fairfax County jury recommended that a McLean woman convicted of shooting her two young daughters to death serves nearly 80 years behind bars. The jury made the recommendation in the penalty phase of the trial on Monday.
Veronica Youngblood was found guilty of murdering her 15-year-old daughter, Sharon Castro, and 5-year-old daughter, Brooklynn Youngblood, inside their Fairfax County apartment in August 2018. The 37-year-old mother faced a maximum penalty of life in prison. On Monday, a jury recommended Youngblood serve 78 years in prison, serving 36 years for the murder of each child and a combined six years for the use of a firearm in each act.
The jury spent several days deliberating before arriving at a punishment for Youngblood. Prosecutors urged a maximum penalty of two life terms, one for each child. Defense attorneys had recommended the minimum of 20 years for each child, plus 6 years for the firearms counts.
Juror Joanne Rhodes, leaving the courthouse Monday after the decision, told WUSA9 Youngblood's upbringing was considered during the deliberation.
"It's very sad," Rhodes said. "What was the one thing in her life that would have made her have a different outcome?"
Asked how she could murder her daughters if she loved them, Fairfax County chief public defender Dawn Butorac said, "Because she was insane, that's why.... Of course she loved her children. What mother would turn to sex work to support her child if she didn't love that child."
Youngblood told jurors she was sexually molested by her grandfather, beaten daily with branches, belts and a broomstick by her father, and then abandoned by both her parents. She was forced into sex work as a teenager to feed her baby and support her younger sister.
Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Steve Descano rejected that explanation.
"Look, let's remember the victims in this case, which are two little girls," he said. "They had their entire lives ahead of them. And they had their lives snuffed out by the person they were supposed to be able to trust most in the world."
On the day of the murders, Veronica Youngblood fed her daughters sleeping pill gummies, and then shot Brooklynn in the head and Sharon in the back and chest, with a handgun she'd bought days earlier. Sharon was able to call 911 and tell first responders her mother had shot her. She died at the hospital; Brooklynn was pronounced dead at the scene.
Veronica Youngblood called her ex-husband after the shooting, leaving a message that she’d killed the girls and that she hated him. Ron Youngblood told jurors of his own pain, recalling how Brooklynn loved animals and how Sharon made him a Father’s Day collage that he still keeps as the screensaver on his phone.
Ron Youngblood said he built memorials for the girls both in Chantilly and in his hometown in Missouri. They’re inscribed, “children are true miracles.”
Defense attorneys argued that Ron Youngblood's plan to take Brooklynn and move to Missouri helped precipitate the violence. Butoric suggested Ron Youngblood, who testified at the trial, bore some responsibility.
"I absolutely believe he does," Butoric said. "He was a an abusive, controlling husband, spying on her."
Descano said he's haunted by a crime scene photo of Brooklynn, who was just two years younger than his own daughter. Brooklynn had been shot, but looked like she was sleeping peacefully in her bed.
A judge will now consider the jury's recommendation at sentencing, which is scheduled for Sept. 22. The judge can legally depart downward from 78 years, but he cannot give her anymore than that.
Both defense and prosecution said 78 years is effectively a life sentence for the 37-year-old mother.
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