WALTERBORO, S.C. (Sept. 1, 2023) – Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone has secured convictions against a Colleton County couple who were in the midst of a multi-day methamphetamine binge when they killed a disabled 13-year-old by locking her in a sweltering car.
The victim’s mother, 53-year-old Rita Pangalangan of Walterboro, and her boyfriend, 45-year-old Larry Eugene King, formerly of Ruffin, were found guilty of murder Friday by a Colleton County General Sessions Court jury. Cristina Pangalangan, whose cerebral palsy rendered her non-verbal and mostly immobile, died of hyperthermia after she was placed in the backseat of her mother’s Volkswagen Jetta and left there for nearly six hours.
Rita Pangalangan and King also were convicted of inflicting great bodily injury on a child. Pangalangan was sentenced to 37 years in prison and King to 32 years.
“Cristina couldn’t scream, and she couldn’t open the car door for herself,” Stone said. “She died because the adults she depended on to keep her safe were too interested in doing drugs and having sex while Cristina literally baked to death.”
At about 11 a.m. on Aug. 15, 2019, King placed Cristina Pangalangan in the backseat of her mother’s vehicle, which was parked in an unshaded area of King’s front yard on Lowcountry Highway. She was left there for five hours and 42 minutes, and the duration was captured on King’s home surveillance system.
During that time, the heat index inside the vehicle likely reached 135 degrees, a University of Georgia climatology expert testified. Surveillance footage showed King and Rita arguing, rocking on a porch swing and embracing lustily inside the home’s front doorway throughout the afternoon. At one point, they went inside for nearly an hour and had sex, King testified.
About four hours after Cristina Pangalangan was placed in the vehicle, the couple discovered they were locked out of the car. After trying unsuccessfully to pry the door open, King drove both defendants in his truck to Pangalangan’s house to retrieve a spare key fob.
By the time Cristina Pangalangan was removed from the vehicle, her skin was blistered and her diaper soiled. The Colleton County Coroner’s Office measured her body temperature at 109.9 degrees – the highest reading the thermometer can record. A forensic pathologist from the Medical University of South Carolina testified that vomit was found in Cristina Pangalangan’s lungs, suggesting she breathed in stomach fluids as her body shut down.
“Perhaps the most appalling thing demonstrated by the surveillance video is that this helpless girl died while these two self-absorbed, drug-addled defendants were often no more than a few feet away,” Stone said. “It would have taken only minimal care and attention to save her life.”
Cristina Pangalangan’s medical history included cerebral palsy with spastic quadriplegia, a condition that bound her to a wheelchair. She also suffered developmental and seizure disorders.
A former roommate testified that Rita Pangalangan often tried to force her into caring for Cristina on short notice. On one occasion, she refused because she had to go to work, but Pangalangan was persistent.
“She told me to leave Cristina in my car with the windows down because she does it all the time,” the roommate testified.
Another witness testified that, three days before the girl’s death, Rita Pangalangan hired her to babysit Cristina while she went on a date with King. The 18-year-old had never cared for the girl before and thought she would be looking after her for a few hours. Instead, she was left in the house with no groceries, and Pangalangan did not reappear until two nights later. That is when she and King came to pick up Cristina and take her to King’s house, where she spent her last night.
Stone called 15 witnesses over three days of testimony at the Colleton County Courthouse. Among them were investigators from the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office and the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division, and Dr. Demetria Garvin, a toxicologist at the private Forensic Science Network.
Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman handed down the sentence.
Stone has been the 14th Circuit Solicitor since 2006 and tries cases as part of the Career Criminal Unit. That team was formed in 2009 to prosecute the circuit’s most violent and habitual offenders. It has earned convictions against 463 of the 505 defendants it has prosecuted.