MODESTO — Alexandra Medina-Cisneros was a playful child, her distraught mother testified in court Monday as she told a judge about the day her 18-month-old daughter died while in the care of a baby sitter in west Modesto.
Maria Guadalupe Cisneros recounted the moment she listened to the voice mail from her baby sitter, Maria Elena Torres. She said the baby sitter's voice sounded frightened.
"She said that my little girl had fallen, and she didn't know what to do," Cisneros testified Monday morning during Torres' preliminary hearing. She was assisted by a Spanish- language interpreter.
Torres, 32, of Modesto has been charged with murder in Alexandra's death. Her preliminary hearing is expected to resume Thursday.
At the conclusion, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Scott Steffen will determine whether there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial. Torres remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail.
Alexandra's mother was at work at a meat-packing plant on Yosemite Boulevard in Modesto when the incident occurred Feb. 7, 2012. Torres lived in a second-floor apartment at El Casa Verde apartment complex, where she baby-sat Alexandra. The child's family lived a few blocks away.
The defendant has told investigators the child fell down a flight of stairs at the apartment complex.
Stanislaus County forensic pathologist Sungook Baik testified Monday that the child died from blunt force injuries on her abdomen and her back. He conducted the autopsy, and he said he found tearing on the child's liver, pancreas and left kidney.
Baik said in court that he didn't find skull fractures or cuts on the child's skin, which would have been indications that Alexandra fell. Numerous small bruises were found on the child's body.
Sobs as injuries described
The defendant sobbed as a court-appointed Spanish-language interpreter translated the pathologist's testimony for her.
Torres had been baby-sitting the child for several months. She and the child's mother had known each other well for about eight years. Both of them lived at El Casa Verde before Cisneros and her two children moved into a house with a relative a few blocks away.
Cisneros testified that Torres had earned her trust over several years. She made an arrangement to pay Torres about $10 a day to take care of Alexandra while she worked. Cisneros said she never worried about leaving her daughter with Torres, who had watched her 8-year-old son from time to time.
The baby sitter often sent the mother photos or videos of Alexandra while Cisneros worked. Cisneros routinely would call Torres during her midday break at work to check on her daughter.
Cisneros testified that she called on the day of the incident, but that everything seemed OK. She was working inside an industrial refrigerator when she missed the frantic phone call from the baby sitter.
Authorities have said Alexandra's injuries occurred at Torres' apartment complex, and that Torres took the injured girl to the child's home before calling police about 2:10 p.m.
Modesto police officer Jason Stewart spoke in court about what he saw as the first to respond to the distress call. He testified that he saw Torres pacing in front of the home, holding the baby like a football. The child was face-down when he arrived.
"The child's head was dangling over her left hand," Stewart said on the witness stand.
Shortly after, the baby sitter turned the child over and appeared to be using one hand to perform chest compressions on Alexandra, Stewart said. The officer took hold of the child and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation until firefighters arrived.
Stewart testified that the child's body was "very limp, almost like holding a doll." He said he didn't detect a pulse.
The child was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Cisneros testified that she rushed to Doctors Medical Center after hearing the message from Torres. She tried returning the phone call on the way, but nobody answered.
After learning about her child's death, Cisneros said, she tried to speak to Torres, but police would not allow it.
Deputy Public Defender Greg Spiering asked Cisneros if she had told others that she felt her child's death was the result of an accident. But Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees objected, and Steffen did not allow the question.
Spiering then asked Cisneros whether she now thinks the death was an accident.
"I don't know anything," Cisneros answered before she again broke down crying.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.