Relatives of a mentally disabled woman who was abducted, raped and slain nearly 20 years ago applauded Friday as a man convicted in the attack was taken into custody at his sentencing hearing.
Jose Burciaga-Ruiz, 58, received a mandatory life sentence without parole at a hearing before 4th Judicial District Judge Michael McHenry. He declined to address the court and appeared to smile as he was led away in handcuffs.
Despite their applause, family members of victim Sharon Lee Sklavos, 38, were anything but jubilant on Friday.
Several relatives swallowed tears while describing the haunting legacy of Sklavos' brutal murder and their anger that it took nearly two decades to bring to justice to a man they always suspected was responsible.
"There is no justice," Sklavos' brother, Dominic Sanchez, said in comments broadcast in court through a speaker phone. "Not in my eyes."
Sklavos, who family members say suffered a mental collapse after witnessing a husband's suicide, went missing in July 1994, from her sister's home on Kincannon Road in Colorado Springs, where she lived. Police say she was found by a hiker nine days later in the woods off Gold Camp Road, her body half-naked with a stick lodged in her genitals.
An autopsy determined Sklavos probably died of strangulation, an El Paso County coroner testified at court hearings.
The slaying went unsolved because of a lack of evidence until Colorado Springs police resubmitted items for DNA analysis in 2012 and came back with a hit on Burciaga-Ruiz, a roofer and former Colorado Springs resident who had dated Sklavos' sister at the time of the woman's disappearance. Authorities say a second man who may also have been involved, Rafael Balderrama, fled to Mexico and is believed to be dead.
Balderrama is also wanted on suspicion of first-degree murder in a 2001 drug murder investigated by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.
Burciaga-Ruiz, who has protested his innocence, was convicted on most counts at an April trial.
In addressing the court, Sklavos' relatives recalled her in happier times, as "vivacious, outgoing and articulate."
After her husband's suicide in the 1990s, she was treated at psychiatric facilities and emerged with the mind of a child, they say.
The death gave rise to another tragedy in the 1990swhen one of Sklavos' relatives tried to seek vengeance against Balderrama and killed a bystander instead.
Edward Raymond Rubio, the husband of one of Sklavos' nieces, and Christopher Kinney are serving 32 years in prison for killing 25-year-old Marcos Hernandez-Castillo. Balderrama was wounded in the leg during the attack. They pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and blamed each other for pulling the trigger.
For Sklavos' sister, Mary Ellen Lopez, Sklavos' death ushered in a period of "unmitigated grief and suffering."
She recalled breaking the news to their 86-year-old widower father, telling the court, "I cradled him in my arms, feeling both his pain and my pain.
"How could anyone do this to another human being?" she asked.
A brother, Leroy "Sonny" Vigil, recalled sitting outside with Sklavos a month before her death, just the two of them, each looking up at the sky.
"She talked about the moon and the stars like a little girl," he said. "What he did was like a child molester. Her mind was 7 years old."
Others lashed out, calling Burciaga-Ruiz "pathetic," a "disgrace to the human race," and a "monster."
Prosecutor Gail Warkentin told Judge McHenry the family struggled to condense two decades of powerlessness and anguish into less than an hour.
"It's just the kind of pain that none of us in the courtroom, except this family, can possibly understand," she said.