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November 13, 2013

Defendants in south Modesto child cruelty case appear in court

Three of four defendants charged with child cruelty appeared in court for the first time Wednesday afternoon. A 2-month-old girl living in their south Modesto home suffered “extreme injuries,” police say, and it’s unknown whether she will survive. An investigation into the baby’s injuries led to authorities’ discovery of two families living in the cramped home used to grow marijuana, police said.

A prosecutor told a judge Wednesday that a 2-month-old girl living in a south Modesto home used to grow marijuana suffered “extreme injuries,” and it wasn’t clear whether she would survive.

The infant, identified in court as Samantha, suffered multiple broken ribs, a lacerated spleen and liver, and bleeding in her brain, said Deputy District Attorney Merrill Hoult.

Samantha was listed in critical condition at Children’s Hospital and Research Center Oakland. Hoult said doctors were unsure whether the infant would suffer brain damage. An investigation into her injuries led authorities to her home, where 200 marijuana plants were found growing inside.

Four adult relatives living in the home, including the child’s parents, have been arrested on various charges. Three of them appeared in court for arraignment Wednesday afternoon, their first court appearance since their arrest over the weekend.

Elizabeth Aguilar and Daniel Villasenor, Samantha’s parents, have been charged with two counts of willful child cruelty possibly resulting in great bodily injury or death. The prosecutor told the judge that the defendants have two children, both living in the home.

Aguilar and Villasenor also have been charged with possessing marijuana for sale, cultivating marijuana, theft of electricity and damaging power lines. Villasenor is also charged with a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest.

Each of the defendants in court Wednesday were being held in the Stanislaus County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bail. But Hoult asked the judge for larger bail amounts based on the allegations in the case.

Four adults and seven children were living in the four-bedroom home in the 1000 block of Boulder Avenue. Hoult said three of the four bedrooms were being used to grow marijuana indoors.

The prosecutor told the judge that Villasenor was alone with Samantha in a room before the baby was found with no signs of life. Hoult said the parents did not call 911 but instead took Samantha to a Modesto hospital themselves.

Officers placed Aguilar and Villasenor in a room, where they spoke to each other about being picked up by a relative in Tijuana, Mexico, Hoult said. The couple is believed to be from Mexico.

After hearing the prosecutor’s arguments, Stanislaus Superior Court Judge John Whiteside agreed to set Elizabeth Aguilar’s bail at $150,000 and Villasenor’s at $250,000.

Whiteside also agreed to increase to $160,000 the bail amount for Raul Aguilar, the third defendant appearing in court Wednesday. The fourth defendant in the case, Maria Hernandez, has been released on bail. Her arraignment hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Raul Aguilar and Hernandez have been charged with five counts of willful child cruelty possibly resulting in great bodily injury or death. They also have been charged with possessing marijuana for sale and cultivating marijuana.

Hoult told the judge that five of the remaining children living in the home are Raul Aguilar’s, and two of those children are his and Hernandez’s.

Elizabeth and Raul Aguilar are siblings.

Modesto police have said the two families were living in one room of the home and a converted closet.

Investigators confiscated the marijuana plants found in the home, along with growing equipment. The adults in the home were using stolen electricity to grow the marijuana, according to police.

Child Protective Services officials took custody of the other children, ages 5 to 12.

The defendants appeared in court Wednesday without attorneys. They were assisted by a Spanish-language interpreter.

Judge Whiteside appointed attorneys to represent the defendants, entered not guilty pleas on their behalf and scheduled them to return to court Tuesday for a pretrial hearing. It was unclear when Hernandez will make her first court appearance.

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