Teacher testifies at hearing for accused Modesto baby sitter

Teacher say she didn't see other kids during pickup

rahumada@modbee.comMay 3, 2013 

Maria Elena Torres

Maria Elena Torres, MPD murder suspect

UNKNOWN — Unknown

    Rosalio Ahumada
    Title: Courts reporter
    Coverage areas: Criminal cases, breaking news
    Bio: Rosalio Ahumada has been a reporter at The Bee for more than seven years, previously covering crime and public safety issues. He also has worked at the Merced Sun-Star, covering education.
    Recent stories written by Rosalio
    On Twitter: @ModBeeCourts
    E-mail: rahumada@modbee.com

A preschool teacher on Friday testified that she saw a woman, now charged with murder, a few hours before an 18-month-old girl was fatally injured while in her care at the defendant's west Modesto home.

A preliminary hearing for defendant Maria Elena Torres resumed with the teacher's testimony. Authorities have said the child, Alexandra Medina-Cisneros, died at the hands of her baby sitter, Torres.

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.

Alexandra's injuries occurred at Torres' apartment complex, and the defendant took the injured girl to the child's home before calling police about 2:10 p.m., according to authorities.

Maureen Price is a preschool teacher at Robertson Road Elementary in Modesto, about half a mile west of Torres' home. She said Torres' daughter attended the school last year for three hours each morning.

Price said Torres signed in her daughter at 8:15 a.m. and picked her up at 11:05 a.m. the day Alexandra was injured. She testified that Torres did not seem pressured or look out of the ordinary when she picked up her daughter.

Generally, Torres picks up her daughter at the preschool and brings her two other children along. Price testified that she didn't see the other children or Alexandra with Torres on Feb. 7, 2012.

During cross-examination, Price said she was aware Torres had a reputation of leaving her children unattended. Torres, however, was known to volunteer once every two or three weeks, helping to serve the children breakfast at the preschool.

A few months before the incident, Price visited Torres' home to deliver Christmas gifts for the children that were provided by an annual Soroptimist toy drive. She noticed the concrete stairs leading up to Torres' second-floor apartment were "very steep" and "not kid-friendly."

A forensic pathologist has testified that Alexandra died from blunt force injuries on her abdomen and back, which resulted in tearing on the child's liver, pancreas and left kidney. A child abuse expert from Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland says the child's death was the result of a severe beating, not a fall down the stairs.

A man has testified he saw the child hit the bottom of the stairs that day at the apartment complex, but he ran away and never spoke to investigators.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Scott Steffen scheduled the preliminary hearing to continue Thursday. The prosecutor is expected to have two neighbors testify as character witnesses. Then, the attorneys will present their closing arguments and the judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

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