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Relatives testify that killer grew up amid drugs, crime

CLEBURNE -- Convicted killer Mark Anthony Soliz had a nightmarish childhood. Surrounded by drugs, alcohol and crime, he began stealing at a young age, two cousins testified Wednesday.

Krisha Flores, who at 36 is six years older than Soliz, testified that Soliz's mother, Donna, allowed her son to run free at an early age while she sat on the porch with some of her sisters sniffing paint, drinking alcohol and doing other drugs.

Sometimes she worked as a prostitute to pay for drugs, Flores testified.

"Half the time, she didn't even know what he was doing because she was all drugged up," Flores testified. "We had to learn the hard way to take care of ourselves because we didn't have no parents around to help us."

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Soliz, who was convicted Friday of capital murder in the death of Nancy Weatherly, 61, during a robbery on June 29, 2010, at her home in Godley in rural Johnson County.

The only alternative for jurors is to sentence Soliz to life in prison without possibility of parole.

To impose the death sentence, jurors must answer two questions. The first is whether they believe Soliz is likely to commit future violent criminal acts that would continue to threaten society. If they answer that question unanimously yes, they next must decide whether mitigating factors in his character or background warrant assessing a life sentence instead of death.

Defense attorneys Greg Westfall and Mike Heiskell began presenting their case for life in prison Wednesday, after the prosecution rested its case in the punishment phase of the trial.

Westfall has told jurors that Soliz grew up on the streets and learned what he saw. They say he has brain damage from fetal alcohol syndrome.

Flores and another cousin, Leticia Herrera, testified Wednesday that almost all of the 12 brothers and sisters of their parents' generation had problems with drugs, alcohol or both.

Eleven of the children in the next generation, including Soliz, have been in prison for various offenses.

Sometimes he and Flores would hop trains to the north side, she said.

The mention of trains brought a rare smile between Flores and Soliz, who has sat quietly throughout the trial.

Crime spree

Weatherly's killing was among 13 crimes linked to Soliz over eight days in two counties. A Ben E. Keith deliveryman, Ruben Martinez, 29, was fatally wounded on the same day as Weatherly outside a convenience store on Fort Worth's north side.

Before resting their case, Johnson County prosecutors Martin Strahan and Larry Chambless, assisted by Tarrant County prosecutor Christy Jack, presented evidence in Martinez's killing from Dr. Rajesh Gandhi, the medical director for trauma and a trauma surgeon at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth.

Gandhi testified that the bullet that went through Martinez's head severed his spinal cord and left him with "locked-in syndrome," in which he was able only to blink his eyes. He could not breathe on his own, he said.

The doctor said the staff, however, was able to communicate with Martinez, who conveyed to doctors that he did not want to live in the condition he was in. His condition continued to worsen, and he died 13 days after the shooting, Gandhi said.

Dianna Hunt, 817-390-7084

Twitter: @DiannaHunt

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