A judge on Tuesday ruled that a woman is mentally competent to stand trial on charges of murder and assault in the death of a toddler she was baby-sitting in west Modesto.
Maria Elena Torres’ jury trial is scheduled to start April 1. Authorities say she is responsible for the death of 18-month-old Alexandra Medina-Cisneros two years ago.
Torres told investigators the child fell down the stairs from her second-floor apartment Feb. 7, 2012. The prosecution says the child’s injuries indicate Alexandra died at Torres’ hands, not from a fall.
Deputy Public Defender Greg Spiering has argued that his client has suffered major depression for two years and has shown signs of the mental disorder in her daily activities. He argued that her emotional instability could slow the judicial process and affect her ability to receive a fair judgment in a monthlong jury trial.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Scott Steffen said in court Tuesday morning that he knows there might be some difficult moments during the trial. But the judge said he will allow the defendant to take some time to compose herself during the trial if necessary.
Torres’ mental health came into question after she tried to commit suicide in jail in September. Psychologist Phil Trompetter examined Torres after her suicide attempt and determined she is mentally competent to stand trial.
The psychologist testified Thursday that he believes Torres suffers from depression, a clinical disorder, 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.
Torres told Trompetter she was hearing the voices of her children asking her to come home and the cackling sound of people laughing at her. She heard these voices about six times during an hourlong interview.
Spiering was asking the court to suspend the case so his client could receive further treatment for depression.
Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees has argued that Torres has experienced only auditory hallucinations that weren’t distracting and didn’t interfere with her ability to understand Trompetter’s questions.
Steffen scheduled the defendant to return to court March 10 to ensure everyone is ready for trial. Torres remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail.