UTAH STATE PRISON Juan Jose Lopez Jr. struggles to remember the details of the murder he committed.
"My crime? It's been a long time," he said during his parole hearing on Tuesday.
"It's not something you'd easily forget," said Jesse Gallegos, a member of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.
"I was under the influence of drugs. That's what took over me," he replied.
"Do you remember stabbing her?"
"Do you remember choking the child?"
In 1988, Lopez stabbed Cindy Redfox Hernandez to death with an 8-inch knife. The Salt Lake slaying was witnessed by her 7-year-old son, whom he grabbed and strangled with a vacuum cord. The boy played dead to survive.
"You threatened to kill him if he told anyone," Gallegos said.
Recounting the crime, the parole board said Lopez had been baby-sitting Hernandez's children when he decided to go to a bar and saw her drinking with someone else. They got into a fight that carried on back at home. Hernandez threw a pot at Lopez, who claims to have blacked out. She was found dead, with six stab wounds to her body. Lopez didn't deny killing Hernandez but blames a drug-induced blackout.
"Acid and alcohol and cocaine," he offered. "I'm not saying that I'm not guilty of it. That's why I'm here in prison, paying for what I did."
Lopez was convicted of second-degree felony murder and child abuse and has been in prison since then. An illegal immigrant, he had repeatedly been deported and re-entered the country in the years leading up to the murder.
"Things have changed dramatically in this country since the last time you did that," Gallegos told him, noting that federal immigration authorities have threatened Lopez with federal prison time should he attempt to re-enter the country, if he's released from the Utah State Prison.
The prison has recommended a 2013 rehearing, about the same time as an earlier parole date. If he were to be released, he'd be deported. Lopez said he wanted to go back to Mexico to get a job and see his family.
"You understand the implications of what may happen if you return to the United States?" Gallegos asked.
"I'll come back to prison again," he said.Gallegos said he could do prison time and then Utah could have him again for life.