Portrait of ‘The Monster’ on Death Row

Portrait of ‘The Monster’ on Death Row

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SAN QUENTIN — “Are you afraid?” Mauricio Silva asks before his cell door opens. He’s been in prison for 31 years for the murder of four teenagers, including his 17-year-old sister whom he strangled with his bare hands.

He knows that his 7-foot-tall frame, 335 pounds and enormous hands, which are still growing due to a hormonal imbalance called gigantism that he was born with, intimidate anyone who stands next to him. The other inmates on San Quentin’s Death Row call him “The Monster.”

Mauricio looks for the best way to position his long legs in the tight metal cage where the interview takes place. He wears jeans and brown boots, size 16.

Next to him, other inmates talk to their families, hugging them. Mauricio observes it all out of the corner of his eye. Although he’s lived in San Quentin for decades, he rarely goes to the visitors’ room.

“Ask me anything, I’ll tell you. I know that outside, people might say, ‘Just do the interview so he doesn’t die,’ but it’s not like that. I regret everything I did, but killing me won’t bring back to life anyone I killed. I know I have to pay, but I suffer more by living, with shame inside, here and here,” he says, pointing with anger, almost hatred, to his heart and his head.

Police records indicate that on May 28, 1984, Silva knocked on the door of the Templeton Sheriff’s Department in San Luis Obispo County and confessed to agent Marie Jones that he had killed three people. He recounted that in less than two weeks, he had stabbed and strangled his half sister, Martha Kitzler, shot Walter P. Sanders five times, and taken the life of Monique Michelle Hilton, a young woman he had picked up at a bus stop on Santa Monica Boulevard.

“She [Monique] was a good girl who had left home to come to Hollywood because she wanted to meet Michael Jackson. During the trial, her family showed me humility and that hurt me even more. I would have preferred that they yelled at me that I’m the worst criminal, a monster like everyone tells me,” he said.

But there’s more to the story. Silva had been out of prison for less than a month when he killed Troy Covella, an 18-year-old he shot nine times, a crime that got him six years in prison in Soledad, Calif.

Crack. The pencil point breaks. Mauricio reaches out his hand, takes the pencil from the reporter and starts to file it down with his nails. Each nail is as big as a walnut.

In July 2007, “The Monster” tried to get his death sentence changed to life in prison, but a judge on the Los Angeles Supreme Court decided that executing him was the appropriate punishment for the cruelty of his crimes.

“I don’t want them to kill me. I’m going to fight for life in prison,” he says pensively.

The statement may give the impression that he’s a convict who loves life, but “the Monster” knows that’s not the case.

“The Bible says it doesn’t matter who you are, each day counts, and the day I stop fighting for my life will be like committing suicide, and there is no relief for suicide, right? Look, here, where am I going in life? To see the wall of my cell every day. In the system, we’re like turkeys on Thanksgiving. They fatten us up in order to kill us. But what I’m afraid of isn’t death, but what comes after,” he explains.

A few weeks ago, thanks to the sound of his neighbors’ TV and the news clippings that come to the prison, Silva learned that California had reactivated executions at San Quentin.

“The photos of the room where they say they’re going to kill us now look immaculate, funny, like a medical center. For us it’s another cell, cold, but clean and organized,” he says between laughs, and impulsively covers his mouth with his hands.

“I’ve had everything broken. In jail when you’re really big, when you go to lie down first, they hit you with anything they can find,” he explains about his teeth, or what remains of them.

Although his criminal record indicates 31 years behind bars, the reality is that Mauricio has spend nearly his entire life in correctional facilities, foster homes and orphanages in Mexico and the United States.

His father, David Silva, a native of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, was a tall, handsome man and a womanizer, a sin that took his life when a jealous coworker killed him in 1968 in Alaska.

His mother Myrna Rodríguez, from Nicaragua, also suffered from gigantism and mental problems. After separating from David, she became her boss’s mistress, and they had a daughter: Martha Kitzler, a beautiful, blond girl who dreamed of becoming a model.

“She [my sister] died because of the problems I had. She didn’t know anything about my life, she laughed at me with her friends, but she wasn’t guilty of anything, how would she know it hurt me?” the convict says.

Mauricio was born with a cleft palate and other physical defects. From the beginning, his father’s rejection was imminent and his mother, in her mental limbo, left him in the care of relatives and friends.

Before he was four years old, Silva and his little brother David, both born in Los Angeles, were sent to live with their grandmother in Mexico City. Court records show that their grandmother once left them locked inside with a big pumpkin that they ate for days, even though it was rotten. The boys went to the hospital with stomach infections.

Mauricio ran away from his grandmother’s house and joined a gang of street kids, where he huffed glue and ate scraps of garbage.

The psychological analysis presented in court recounts Silva’s difficulties acknowledging the sexual violations he suffered at the hands of adults.

“It happened to me and I saw it many times. Once on a bus in Mexico City, they raped a girl I knew, she was mute and I kept quiet out of fear,” he says, his face reflecting his shame.

“I didn’t tell the psychologist because I don’t like talking about it. I’m telling it because I think maybe some parents will read the story and talk about it. And if a kid this is happening to is walking by and hears them, there’s a chance he’ll be inspired to talk. I’m 51 now and I see that everything that hurt me as a kid made me into a monster,” he recalls.

Silva lived in more than five foster homes and by age 15 he still didn’t know how to write. According to his record, when he went to White Memorial Hospital to have his cleft palate operated on, he was so scared that he wet his pants. He was young, and no one had ever worried about his health.

“The whole time I’ve been in jail, that family stuff is something I’ve only seen on TV,” he says.

For 26 years, San Quentin has been his home, and his neighbors have been criminals like Cary A. Stayner, who raped and murdered four women in Yosemite national park, or Martin James Kipp, who took the lives of two women.

“When you think you’ve seen the worst of the worst, someone arrives who’s even worse. This year 22 new ones got sentenced. It’s not my business what they did. Here we know we’re all criminals,” he says.

It’s 5:00 and the guards tell us the interview is over. “The Monster” is ordered to disinfect his chair. While he does, he says, “I hope my story helps other people so they don’t end up here,” and he blames the disinfectant for his eyes, which are surprisingly red.