Grieving San Bernardino Family Fights to Block Parole of Loved One’s Killer

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 17, 2016 issue of The Sun. View clip online.

Twenty years is too long for life without “mija.”

Twenty years is too short for the sentence of her killer, says the family of “mija.”

“I feel he should do life,” said Marilyn Necochea, the young woman’s sister. “She’s doing life. We’ve been sentenced to life.”

On Dec. 9, 1997, a jury convicted Jonathan G. Flores, then 29, of murdering his estranged wife, Michele R. Flores, 25, in June 1996. He was sentenced to 25 years to life with possibility of parole.

That possibility will be raised Oct. 6, when Jonathan Flores faces his first parole hearing board at Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy.

He’ll also face a family determined to do what it can to keep him imprisoned.

“She was not only my sister, she was my best friend,” Necochea said of her mija — short for mi hija, Spanish for “my daughter” and also used as a term of endearment for, in this case, a younger sister.

Necochea has led a campaign to block Jonathan Flores’ parole. She’s solicited petition signers, letter writers and even California Governor Jerry Brown via Change.org.

“I’m compelled to do this so she gets the justice she deserves,” Necochea said. “How can you love somebody and hurt her the way he did, and to expect to come out and live life?”

Necochea maintains a Facebook group, “Justice for Michele!”, where almost daily she exhorts “We are her voice,” posting vintage family photos and writing poems in memory of her sister, such as this one from Monday:

“The bond between sisters
Will last a life time
I’ll never forgot our bond
The love we shared
Was so special to me
I’ll never forget our love
The memories are many
They keep her alive
I’ll never forget the memories
Michele is gone, but will
Never be forgotten!!!”

“Even though there was such an age difference (8 years) we did so much together,” Necochea said. “Wherever she was, I was.”
The two sisters were confidants. One day, Michele Flores revealed her husband was mentally and physically abusive.

Necochea said her sister made her promise not to tell anyone. “I don’t know what was going through her mind.”

By February 1996, Michele Flores apparently had enough: she reportedly told a friend she wanted to separate from her husband. The following month, he attacked and threatened to kill her, and was jailed after pleading guilty to spousal abuse. In April, after being released on probation and after his wife asked for a restraining order against him, Jonathan Flores allegedly again attacked and threatened to kill her.

Flores went back behind bars, but he was released at the end of May after Michele Flores recanted her testimony of the April incident. She told the court she had lied to scare her husband; her mother, who died in 2010, said in an interview soon after Jonathan Flores’ capture that Michele lied about lying for the sake of the couple’s two boys — Jonathan and Jason Flores, 8 and 6 at the time of their mother’s death — because they were “very close to their father and they would cry for him.”

Necochea has binders stuffed with news clippings, missing person posters and copies of photographs. They tell of how Michele Flores disappeared July 15, 1996 after withdrawing money at her credit union soon after reportedly arguing on the phone with her estranged husband; they tell of how her body was found three days later in the trunk of her own car in a Tijuana airport parking lot; they tell of how Jonathan Flores was caught three days after that trying to cross the United States border near El Paso, Texas.

The binders tell the story of the trial, in which Jonathan Flores’ reportedly didn’t react when he was convicted of 1st degree murder and how his father Frank Flores was convicted of accessory to murder for helping his son hide his daughter-in-law’s body.

Necochea recounts accompanying detectives to identify her sister’s body as if it happened last week. Fresh tears fall, but remembering Michele Flores’s unusual “banana feet,” which helped Necochea confirm the body was her sister’s, allows Marilyn to smile.

But remembering how Jonathan Flores left mija’s unclothed body inside a car trunk darkens Necochea’s face.

“It plays daily through my head,” she said. “What he did to her was so unnatural, so inhuman.”

By sharing the story of her mija, Necochea has done more than build opposition to Jonathan Flores’ parole.

“This has been my way of healing,” she said.

After the murder of her sister, Necochea said she suffered in silence, sharing little with her family “to protect them.”

“I always felt I had to be the strong one,” she said.

One way Necochea has shared her sister’s story is through a local chapter of Families and Friends of Murdered Victims, a nonprofit organization that supports those who’ve lost loved ones to murder.

“It is gut-wrenching because she has to relive this all over again,” said Colton chapter chairperson Rose Madsen, whose daughter Jennifer LeAnne Balber was murdered in Rialto on Nov. 10, 1994. “I told her, Marilyn, you’re a strong lady. If you were in a place where you weren’t healed, you couldn’t do this. I’m so proud of her.”

Necochea has also been asked to speak by Option House, a San Bernardino County nonprofit that helps victims of domestic violence.

“I want people to be aware (domestic violence) can happen to them,” Necochea said. “I don’t want my sister’s death to be in vain.”

But first, Necochea told Option House, she must focus all her attention on the parole hearing.

At the end of August Necochea sent petitions signed by more than 1,500 people to the parole hearing board in Sacramento. She’s asking people to write letters of opposition and send them to the board, as well.

In addition to petition signers, Necochea has law enforcement support. The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office will send Deputy District Attorney Connie Lasky to the hearing to speak in opposition, said spokesperson Christopher Lee. San Bernardino police Detective John Munoz, among those who worked the murder case, said he also wrote and sent a letter of opposition at Necochea’s request.

“Because of the way he went about committing the crime” — since Jonathan Flores tried to conceal what he’d done — “there’s always the possibility he would do it again,” Munoz said.

Necochea also must prepare for the actual parole hearing. She, her two surviving sisters, two aunts, two uncles and Flores’ two sons have requested clearance to attend and speak on Michele Flores’ behalf.

“I’m not as strong as my sister (Marilyn) is,” Susan Necochea admitted. “(Yet) we’re all in this together. We got to do what we got to do to make sure my sister gets justice.”

When asked in a letter whether he believes he should be granted parole, Jonathan Flores responded he was “justly found guilty” of the “selfish and cowardly act of murder. … (That) has caused so much heartache and pain.”

“If the (Parole) Board determines I’ve been rehabilitated and suitable for parole only then do I believe I should be granted parole,” he wrote, adding that he could “never serve enough time. … For Michele’s precious life that was taken away from her.”

As Oct. 6 nears, Marilyn Necochea said she’s “on pins and needles.” Even with so many people supporting her family, the outcome is impossible to predict.

Marilyn Necochea was told the parole board would present its verdict within 3 to 5 hours of the hearing.

“We’re in a fight for our lives, because it’s going to be our lives affected if he gets out,” Marilyn Necochea said. “We don’t know what to expect from him. Who is to say he’s not going to hurt anybody else?”

If Jonathan Flores is granted parole, Marilyn Necochea won’t stop. She said she’d petition Gov. Jerry Brown to block it.

If Jonathan Flores is denied parole, well, that won’t stop her either.

Next time he’s eligible, she said, she’ll fight it all over again.