A man testified Friday that he saw an 18-month-old girl on the ground who appeared lifeless shortly after she fell down a flight of stairs at a west Modesto apartment complex last year.
The child, Alexandra Medina-Cisneros, died from her injuries. Authorities say the little girl didn't fall down the stairs, and that her injuries indicate she died at the hands of baby sitter Maria Elena Torres.
Torres, 32, of Modesto has been charged with murder in the child's death. The defendant has told investigators the child fell down the stairs outside her second-floor home at the El Casa Verde apartment complex Feb. 7, 2012.
Her preliminary hearing continued Friday in Stanislaus County Superior Court with testimony from Sarun Un, who said he was helping a friend move into an apartment next door to Torres' home when the incident occurred.
"A baby fell down the stairs," Un testified. "Something that nobody wants to see."
He clarified that he was moving furniture and that he didn't see the baby fall. He testified that he saw the "very last moment" as the baby hit the ground at the bottom of the stairs.
Un never spoke to Modesto police investigators. He was recently contacted by an investigator for the defense and was called to testify by Deputy Public Defender Greg Spiering, Torres' attorney.
Stanislaus County forensic pathologist Sungook Baik has testified that the child died from blunt force injuries on her abdomen and back. He conducted the autopsy and said he found tearing on the child's liver, pancreas and left kidney.
Dr. James Crawford Jakubiak, medical director at the Center for Child Protection at Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland, has agreed with the pathologist's findings that Alexandra's injuries were not caused by a fall down the stairs.
Jakubiak has said the child's death was the result of a severe beating, according to testimony from the lead investigator in the case.
Un said that when he saw the child on the ground, he ran home after going down another flight of stairs. He remained at his nearby home until after dark, when he returned to the complex. Modesto police already had left the area.
"I was spooked. I was scared," Un said. "I didn't know what to do."
A few days later, he was at the apartment complex when he was contacted by a TV news reporter who was knocking on doors seeking to speak to neighbors. Un spoke with the reporter, and some of his statement was aired in a televised report about the child's death.
Spiering tried to introduce the news report footage as evidence, but Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees objected. The prosecutor called the video footage hearsay, and Judge Scott Steffen did not allow the TV news report to be submitted as evidence.
A transcript of the news report obtained by The Bee indicates that Un told the reporter he did see the child fall down the stairs, which contradicts his testimony.
During cross-examination, Un said he did not tell the reporter he saw the child fall down the stairs. He also testified that he didn't intentionally misspell his name for the TV reporter. He is identified as "Tony Suon" in the news report, and Un testified that he sometimes goes by his middle name, Tony.
He said he was paranoid and ran home after he saw the baby hit the ground because he was wanted on an arrest warrant. Un testified that he didn't clear up the warrant until Friday, before he gave his account on the witness stand.
Un told the prosecutor that he had wanted to clear up the arrest warrant, but waited three years to do so. He said he didn't do so just so he could testify in the preliminary hearing.
Un also testified that he was convicted of selling drugs in 2009 and that he was not using drugs when he witnessed the child hit the ground at the bottom of the stairs. He said he recently had met his friend Marla and was helping her move into the apartment complex, but couldn't remember her last name Friday.
Steffen scheduled the preliminary hearing to continue May 2, when the defense attorney is expected to call to the stand another pathologist who will testify on the cause of death. The judge scheduled Torres to return to court April 29 to confirm that the hearing will be ready to resume next month.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.