A child abuse expert has determined that an 18-month-old Modesto girl was beaten to death, according to testimony from a homicide detective. The expert says the child did not fall down a staircase as her baby sitter claims.
Maria Elena Torres, 32, of Modesto has been charged with murder in the death of Alexandra Medina- Cisneros. Torres' preliminary hearing is expected to continue Monday.
Maria Guadalupe Cisneros had left her daughter in Torres' care as she had done many times before. The women had been friends for about eight years, and Torres agreed to take care of the child while Cisneros was at work.
The defendant has told investigators the child fell down the flight of stairs outside her second-floor home at El Casa Verde apartment complex on Feb. 7, 2012.
Autopsy photos shown
Modesto police Detective Jon Evers, the lead investigator in the case, testified in the preliminary hearing Thursday that he provided autopsy photos to the child abuse expert, Dr. James Crawford Jakubiak. He is the medical director at the Center for Child Protection at Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland.
The photos Jakubiak examined depicted numerous bruises on Alexandra's body. He also reviewed a coroner's report and the child's medical records, including an X-ray.
Stanislaus County forensic pathologist Sungook Baik has testified 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.
Jakubiak agreed with the pathologist's findings, that Alexandra's injuries were not caused by a fall down the stairs.
The child's death "was the result of a severe beating," Evers testified about Jakubiak's expert opinion. The detective also said that Jakubiak believes Alexandra's injuries were not consistent with the chronology in Torres' account of what happened.
The defendant told investigators the child was acting normally throughout the day and was playing on the living room floor about 1 p.m., according to Evers' testimony. The 911 call for help came at 2:07 p.m., and Torres claimed the child was found unresponsive on the front lawn downstairs from the apartment.
She took the injured child to Alexandra's home a few blocks away and asked a relative there to call for help. Modesto police Detective Robert Gumm said they found a cordless phone that was functioning inside Torres' apartment that day.
During cross-examination, Evers testified that Jakubiak did not attend the child's autopsy and relied on information provided by investigators. He also said that Jakubiak was aware that the child's mother said Alexandra had some bruising on her body before she was dropped off at Torres' home.
Jakubiak did not indicate to Evers whether he could tell, by looking at the autopsy photos, which bruises on Alexandra were old or more recent.
Report of a witness
The detective also testified that he was aware of one news report that featured a man saying he had witnessed the child fall down the stairs. Evers said investigators tried to find the man identified in the news report, but were not successful.
Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees called her final witness Thursday afternoon. Deputy Public Defender Greg Spiering told the judge he would need more time to decide whether he would call any witnesses on behalf of the defense.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Scott Steffen scheduled the preliminary hearing to continue Monday, either with more testimony or closing arguments. The judge also can postpone the hearing if the prosecutor needs time to prepare for any defense witnesses.
At the conclusion, Steffen will determine whether there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial. Torres remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.