Both Mellie’s and Maria’s parents note that when police arrived at the apartment where the girls were found, no drug paraphernalia was on the scene—a fact both families find suspicious. It’s possible, they say, that Martinez and Morales, seeking to hide evidence, wasted valuable time that could have saved their daughters. “They didn’t give them the chance to help themselves,” Mariel says. “They’re dead, two girls, and they were together with these two men. Not kids. They were men. It was something they did to try to make them addicts, so they would be their customers.”
On another night, I’m sitting in the Pesantezes’ living room in Jackson Heights. Maria’s college I.D. photo is blown up to an eight-by-ten and rests on the mantle, not far from a rendering of The Last Supper. Marcia and Juan Carlos are on the couch, leafing through their daughter’s old report cards. Marcia, too, has a list of refutations for everything that’s been said about Maria. Would a junkie, she says, be able to spend six weeks in Ecuador with her family without showing a single sign of discomfort? Those drug movies, like Trainspotting? She brought them home to educate Karla and enlighten Marcia. That photo of her drinking? “That was taken in Ecuador, at my sister-in-law’s house,” Marcia says. “She was with her cousins and they made her drink, and she put that photo on the Web so that her boyfriend could see it.”
You might think the two families would be bound together by mutual grief. But they have not spoken since just after the wakes. Marcia will not say anything negative about Mellie. “Let God be the judge,” she says. But Juan Carlos has something to say. “We’re not Jesus Christ who turns the other cheek,” he says. “No, we need to clear up what the truth is. From here forward, we are going to clean up my daughter’s name.” He believes the facts will eventually show that Mellie Carballo was working as a roper for Martinez, luring in new girls in exchange for drugs.
“I know that Maria would, if Mellie asked her to, to ‘please come with me quickly to drop off this bag at my friend’s house,’ she would go up,” he says. “I think that Mellie does the drugs first and she passes out. So these guys decide that they can’t have a live witness and so they make Maria do the same. Then they can wash their hands of it, put it all on them, saying that they brought the drugs, or they wanted to do the drugs, or they set it up. They killed Maria so she wouldn’t be able to talk! I say to you, Maria has to have had some kind of pressure, maybe a fist, or a gun, because we’re not sure that Maria would have gone into that apartment with those men voluntarily.”
The police insist there’s no evidence to support this, but it’s what Juan Carlos clings to now—the idea that his daughter was tricked. He thinks Mellie had been trying all that night to recruit other girls to come with her, before finally finding a mark in Maria. Marcia, meanwhile, keeps looking for any sign that Maria was innocent. She has begun to ask the medical examiner if someone could have slipped Maria a pill. It’s a quixotic theory, but Marcia keeps calling.
When they’re told what Juan Carlos is implying about Mellie, Mellie’s parents turn pale. For Mariel, any suggestion that her daughter is to blame is more than insulting. It misses the point. “I don’t care if Mellie had been doing drugs for two years!” she says. “I will never, ever blame either Maria or Mellie. If they had problems, they were our problems.”
Miguel is incredulous that one family might blame the other. “It never crossed my mind,” he says. “Whenever anybody talks about it, it’s Mellie and Maria, Maria and Mellie.”
Maria Pesantez and Mellie Carballo met during their freshman year at Saint Vincent’s. Maria had arrived with a ready-made clique: Two close friends, Bianca Berges and Michelle Adam, had come with her from junior high. Mellie was a new face—the kind of girl other girls took an interest in, with an appealing, almost preternatural confidence. She had a modified Valley Girl way of speaking, with lots of ironic attitude and one-word answers—Phoebe from Friends, by way of Daria. Bianca still does a decent imitation: “Ew. What. Is. That?” She laughs. “That’s a Mellie quote—‘Ew.’ People who weren’t nice to her, she’d say, ‘Ew.’ ” Then there were her nightlife connections. She was friends with hot bands like Sugarcult and would party with them backstage, yet she never acted as if it were a big deal. “She was like a scenester, always going to shows,” Bianca says. “She knew all those people. She was friends with them.”