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GREENVILLE — Gloria Cortez stood before the court Wednesday to address the man jurors had just convicted of killing and kidnapping her 20-year-old niece.
“I ask you, Mr. Parks, that if you know where her body is, please tell us,” Cortez said, speaking on behalf of Isabel “Chaveli” Palacios’ family. “So we can rest in peace and she can rest in peace for the sake of her little girl who keeps asking about her mom.”
The tears flowed as she spoke about Palacios’ daughter, who is now 5 years old.
“She is a very special little girl,” Cortez said. “She doesn’t have a mother anymore.”
Cortez said when Palacios’ daughter was 3, they were reading her a story about Dumbo, the flying elephant.
“She turns around and says, ‘I wish I had ears like Dumbo so I could fly to heaven to see my mom,’” Cortez recalled in court.
Several of Palacios’ relatives and friends could be heard sniffling and crying softly in the courtroom as Cortez continued. She said when the now 5-year-old places flowers on her great-grandmother’s grave, she wonders why she can’t do the same for her mother.
“I want to know where she is so I can take flowers to her,” the child often says.
And Palacios’ little girl continues to ask why her mommy is not coming back, Cortez told the court.
“Because someone decided to take her life,” Cortez continued.
Parks, who was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping in Palacios’ death and disappearance, sat beside his attorney and listened as Cortez addressed the court.
‘I’VE NEVER SEEN ‘CHAVELI’ DEAD’
Before Palacios’ family addressed the court and prior to Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. officially conducting sentencing, Parks was allowed to address the family.
“When I sent those letters to y’all about a year ago, it wasn’t self-serving,” Parks said, looking directly at the family.
He said he had seen on TV and through newspapers how close and supportive Palacios’ family was.
“And it touched my heart,” Parks said, adding that he prayed about sending the letters.
“At this point, I still maintain my innocence,” Parks said. “I’ve never seen ‘Chaveli’ dead.”
Parks said he had something to give to the family through his attorney, Tom Sallenger. He said it was something for the family to think about to “keep hope alive.”
“On my fight ... some questions are still out there in my mind,” he added.
Parks said he understood if the family felt anger, hatred or frustration toward him.
“I can take it,” he said. “Because I know the Lord will help me out and hold my hand every day and He will hold your hand. I want you to have some thoughts about what I’ve put in this two to three pages here to try to find some healing.”
Parks also said a jury found him guilty and he has to “wear that until somehow the truth comes out.” He also said he did not have any animosity toward the jury, although he wished for a different verdict Wednesday.
Parks, a convicted felon, has an extensive criminal record, including manslaughter and attempted first-and second-degree rape.
In 2013, Parks was convicted by a Wilson County jury on two counts of participating in the prostitution of a minor. While he was sentenced to decades in prison, he was released early after the N.C. Court of Appeals overturned those convictions in 2014, citing a lack of evidence in the case. That sentence included an enhancement for habitual felon status at that time.