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After Her Son Was Violently Murdered in Las Vegas, This Mom Now Helps Others Cope with Grief

Cynthia Portaro, whose son Michael's Las Vegas slaying is retraced in Sin City Murders, forgave his killer and now advocates against the death penalty.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

Cynthia Portaro, a Las Vegas mother of five, never planned on taking a stand against capital punishment. But in a flash of a revolver, everything changed.

How to Watch

Watch Sin City Murders on Oxygen Sundays at 7/6c and next day on Peacock. 

On March 30, 2011, her son, Michael Portaro, an aspiring musician, was fatally shot outside a local pub at age 22. Sin City Murders traces the brutal homicide in an episode airing March 3 at 7/6c p.m. on Oxygen.

The killer, Brandon Hill, who was 22 when he pulled the trigger, faced the death penalty following his conviction in 2015. By then, Portaro had suffered the losses of a daughter in an ATV accident and her husband to cancer. Portaro asked prosecutors to spare Hill’s life.

“Do I want more death?,” she reasoned on Sin City Murders.

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Hill was sentenced to 28 years to life. Oxygen.com talked with Portaro about her advocacy, the grieving process, forgiveness, and how she, a former interior designer, tries to help others heal from loss.

Michael and Cynthia Portaro featured on Sin City Murders Episode 102

Cynthia Portaro has advocated against the death penalty since her son Michael Portaro's murder

Oxygen.com: You’re active in the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Did Michael’s murder spark your activism?

Cynthia Portaro: No, but it shifted my focus. I always was an advocate for kids with disabilities. I now advocate against the death penalty because of so many factors that go with it. Being an advocate usually comes from something personal in your life.

Oxygen.com: Nevada is one of 27 states with the death penalty. Why do you want it repealed?

Cynthia Portaro: The death penalty doesn’t work financially or for citizens. And the other thing it doesn't do is it doesn’t help families. It does not help them heal because [death row convicts] can have pardon after pardon after pardon after pardon. And those families, those victims of crime, have to relive everything over and over again. I feel like God protected me from that.

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Oxygen.com: Are there other elements of your advocacy?

Cynthia Portaro: I also am an advocate for getting judges that’ll be tougher on criminals and keep them in jail. I can't tell you how many murders that we have had [as a result of] people that are let out of prison early. This angers me, and for me, it’s good anger. As citizens we need to stand up for our communities and our country. So I talk to judges. I ask them why they're running. Do they want to make a difference in our community?

Michael Portaro featured on Sin City Murders Episode 102

"You don't ever get over losing a child," Cynthia Portaro said of her son's murder

Oxygen.com: You became a life coach. Did you do that so you could make a difference?

Cynthia Portaro: With coaching, I deal with a lot of untimely death. You don't ever get over losing a child. One thing about the death of a child is that nobody understands what you’re going through except another parent who went through the death of a child. I usually don't reach out to people, they end up reaching out to me.

Oxygen.com: How did you get started as a life coach?

Cynthia Portaro: I began doing this after a woman reached out to me after my son died. Her son passed away four or five months before my son. I didn't know her. We had mutual friends. And just talking to her, I started to understand the connection. I usually meet with people over Zoom.

RELATED: Sin City Murders Recounts Chilling Las Vegas Cases Ranging From a Missing Dancer to a Slain Rapper 

Oxygen.com: You note that you’re not a professional counselor. But your life experiences inform your coaching.

Cynthia Portaro: If I don’t think I can handle somebody, I refer them to a group of counselors that I have.

Michael Portaro featured on Sin City Murders Episode 102

Cynthia Portaro forgave her son's killer 

Oxygen.com: Your son’s killer asked you to forgive him, and you did.

Cynthia Portaro: Well, it wasn't something that I planned. During the whole trial, I was filled with emotional turmoil. I came to a place where I realized that forgiveness is not for the other person but for us. It releases you from the stronghold of anger and bitterness.

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Oxygen.com: You cover your experiences in the book, Beyond the Unthinkable. Did writing it help you heal?

Cynthia Portaro: It did. I always knew someday I would write a book, but I never knew what it was going to be about. I have journaled my entire life.

Oxygen.com: What do you miss most about your son, Michael? 

Cynthia Portaro: Everything.

To learn more the case, featured on the "Hip Hop Homicide" episode of Sin City Murders, watch the series airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.