In a Fresno courtroom Wednesday, the family of a slain woman packed one side, demanding a long prison sentence for the killer, 28-year-old Laquandra Nicole Kinchen.
On the other side sat Kinchen’s family, asking for mercy.
In the end, Judge Gary Hoff sentenced Kinchen to 12 years in prison for killing 56-year-old Mary Lara last year outside Lara’s southeast Fresno home in a dispute over pets.
Tensions were high in Hoff’s courtroom because Lara’s family said 12 years wasn’t enough for killing a woman who loved her family and her pets, and would clothe, feed and shelter anyone in need.
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But prosecutor Gabriel Brickey and Hoff told the gathering that the sentence was justified.
To support their contention, Hoff cleared the courtroom of children and let Brickey played a videorecording of Lara’s slaying that was captured by a surveillance camera.
Brickey and Hoff said the video clearly showed that Lara’s actions played a role in her death.
“It’s a tragic situation for two families,” Hoff said. “But Lara is not blameless.”
Police said Kinchen, who also goes by Ligons, was walking a dog with her two children when she and Lara exchanged words in front of Lara’s home on the 1300 block of North Eighth Street near Olive Avenue on Sept. 18. Police said Lara believed the dog posed a threat to her cats, so she poked the dog with a metal rod.
Fearing Lara was going to harm her and her children, Kinchen pulled out a knife. While Lara was retreating to her home, Kinchen stabbed Lara multiple times, Brickey said. Thurman Howard Ligons, who police identified as Kinchen’s husband, then drove her away from the crime scene.
Witnesses called 911, and emergency medical personnel rushed Lara to Community Regional Medical Center, where she was later pronounced dead.
In February, Hoff sentenced Ligons, 31, to three years in the Fresno County Jail after he pleaded no contest to being an accessory after the killing.
In court Wednesday, Kinchen said she was remorseful and apologized to Lara’s family, who cried while describing Lara’s lifetime of good deeds. They told the judge that some family members had witnessed Lara dying outside her home, and called Kinchen “a monster” for doing the killing in front of her own children.
Hoff, however, said Kinchen’s punishment was appropriate because she had pleaded no contest to manslaughter with the use of a knife.
Brickley added that Kinchen could have made a case of self-defense if she had responded when Lara poked the dog.
In announcing the sentence, Hoff said Kinchen has lived a life of sexual and physical abuse and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder that makes her respond to perceived threats. “Without reason or logic, she chose a fight mentality, not a flight mentality,” Hoff said, noting that Kinchen’s crime was imperfect self-defense or a sudden quarrel, heat-of-passion-type killing.