MODESTO — A psychologist testified Thursday that a Modesto woman accused of murder in the death of a girl she was baby-sitting is mentally competent to stand trial.
Defendant Maria Elena Torres mental health came into question after she tried to commit suicide in jail in September.
Torres jury trial is scheduled to start April 1. She is charged with murder and assault on a child younger than 8 in Alexandra Medina-Cisneros death two years ago. Before trial, Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Scott Steffen must determine whether Torres is mentally competent.
Torres told investigators the child fell down the stairs from her second-floor apartment. The prosecution says the childs injuries indicate Alexandra died at Torres hands, not from a fall.
Psychologist Phil Trompetter examined Torres after her suicide attempt. He testified that he believes she suffers from a clinical disorder depression but that the disorder does not prevent her from understanding the court proceedings, knowing the key players in her case and assisting in her defense.
It seemed to me that Ms. Torres was very interested in fighting this case, Trompetter said on the witness stand Thursday afternoon.
During her examination, Torres said a woman told her about a news report that indicated she was accused of killing a child, but the defendant told the psychologist thats not true. She told Trompetter she was hearing voices of her children asking her to come home and the cackling sound of people laughing at her.
The psychologist said in court that the auditory hallucinations, loss of appetite and sleep are symptoms of depression; they are not delusional thoughts or behavior indicating Torres has suffered from psychotic episodes.
Trompetter said Torres wasnt persistently upset during his examination. She became tearful, and her voice got loud several times when answering questions about her parents and her children, but she didnt appear distracted by the voices she was hearing. He said its possible the jury could be impacted if she becomes emotional during her trial.
I didnt think she was faking any of this, Trompetter testified. I thought she was expressing legitimate symptoms.
He said Torres has shown signs of depression since she arrived at the jail in February 2012. She has been treated with antidepressants, and her medication was adjusted after the suicide attempt. She told Trompetter she never had been treated for psychological problems before.
Steffen scheduled the defendants mental competency trial to continue today, when the attorneys will have an opportunity to present their arguments.
If the judge decides Torres is not mentally competent, she could be sent to a medical facility to restore her mental health before she can stand trial.