By LAUREN SILVER and EMILY KEAN
COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (Court TV) — A South Carolina woman convicted in the 2019 hot car death of her disabled teen daughter has been sentenced to 37 years in prison for murder.
Rita Pangalangan was also sentenced to 20 years for causing great bodily injury to Cristina Pangalangan, 13, as the girl was left sitting for hours in a car outside the home of Rita Pangalangan’s boyfriend, Larry King Jr.
King was sentenced to 32 years for murder and 20 years for great bodily injury to a child. Both defendants were ordered to serve their sentences concurrently.
Jurors took under two and a half hours Friday evening to find the pair guilty of both charges. Each defendant was acquitted of criminal conspiracy.
“Oh my God,” Rita Pangalangan, a one-time teacher of the year, cried out as the verdict was read. King did not appear to visibly react to his conviction.
According to court filings obtained by Court TV, Cristina Pangalangan was born on March 28, 2006, with severe intellectual and physical disabilities that left her confined to a wheelchair and unable to communicate verbally.
Prosecutors alleged that on Aug. 5, 2019, Rita and Larry left Cristina alone in a vehicle parked outside of Larry’s house for more than five hours, killing the teenager.
Colleton County deputies who responded to the scene said that Rita told them she had left Cristina in the car while she ran into her boyfriend’s house to get a pack of cigarettes, but when she returned to the car the doors were locked with Cristina and the keys trapped inside, WCIV reported.
According to a wrongful death lawsuit, Cristina was left in the car from 11 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., on a day when the outside temperature was 88-91 degrees. The temperature inside the car was estimated to have reached 130-135 degrees.
“As a result of being left unattended in a parked car in the middle of the summer, Cristina died a tortuous death of extreme pain and suffering.”
Investigators told WCIV that Rita’s story began to fall apart after detectives seized security camera video from King’s home, which reportedly shows the couple bringing the teen into King’s house before returning her to the car and abandoning her. Three hours later, Rita and Larry left the home in another vehicle and returned an hour later.
Rita had been named the 2014 teacher of the year at Walterboro’s Black Street Early Education Center, according to the Associated Press. The South Carolina State Board of Education suspended her educator certificate immediately after her arrest. In filing her suspension, the board said that despite her more than 25 years of experience as an educator, the arrest showed that “Ms. Pangalangan may pose a threat to the health, safety and welfare of students.”
DAILY TRIAL HIGHLIGHTS
DAY 3 – 9/1/23
- Jurors found Rita Pangalangan and Larry King guilty of murder and great bodily injury to a child. Each defendant was acquitted of criminal conspiracy.
- WATCH: Disabled Teen Death Trial: Larry King Addresses Court
- WATCH: Disabled Teen Death Trial: Larry King Sentenced
- The jury hears closing arguments
- WATCH: Disabled Teen Death Trial: Rebuttal Argument
DAY 2 – 8/30/23
- Forensic Science Network Director Dr. Demetra Garvin testified that Rita Pangalangan and Larry King Jr. both had levels of methamphetamine in their blood consistent with abuse.
- Rita had 400 ng/ml of meth and 160 ng/ml of amphetamine in her blood.
- Larry had 480 ng/ml of meth and 88 ng/ml of amphetamine in his blood.
- A forensic pathologist testified that Cristina died of hypothermia after being left in a hot car for hours.
- The coroner recorded her body temperature as 109 degrees, the highest temperature his thermometer could reach.
- He found evidence that decomposition had begun, based on the nature of her injuries.
- Found that Cristina had vomited and that had aspirated into her lungs as she was dying.
- The state rested its case-in-chief.
- Larry King Jr. testified that the car was running with the air conditioning on when he placed Cristina in the car on Aug. 5, 2019.
- Larry said that he knew Cristina but did not consider himself responsible for her.
- Larry said that he and Rita had been fighting that day over infidelity, but they made up and had sex while Cristina was in the car.
- On cross, Larry admitted that he knew Rita was using meth that weekend and that neither he nor Rita opened the front door of the car during a portion of the video shown in court.
- Larry said he didn’t know what Rita did when she opened the front door at 12:29 when she checked on Cristina.
DAY 1 – 8/29/23
- The jury hears opening statements
- Lindsay Lewis, who babysat Cristina, testified
- Was asked to babysit on a Friday night, Rita didn’t return home until Sunday evening
- Said there was no food in the home and Cristina’s bed had bed bugs
- Brittany Honeycutt, a former friend of Rita, testified the defendant told her she left Cristina in the car “all the time” with the windows down
- The jury watched hours of video footage that appears to show the defendants leaving Cristina in the hot car for hours