Jury to decide mental competency of Modesto murder defendant

11/26/2013 5:23 PM

11/26/2013 9:59 PM

A jury will have to decide whether a woman is mentally competent to stand trial in the death of an 18-month-old girl she was baby-sitting at her west Modesto home last year.

In the death of Alexandra Medina-Cisneros, 32-year-old Maria Elena Torres faces a charge of murder and assault on a child younger than 8 years old.

In August, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Scott Steffen scheduled Torres’ trial to start April 1. The defendant’s mental competency has come into question, and the judge ordered a mental-health evaluation.

Forensic psychologist Phil Trompetter examined Torres and submitted to the court a report on her mental health.

On Monday, Deputy Public Defender Greg Spiering said he was not willing to stipulate to the psychologist’s report, so a jury will listen to testimony and arguments about Torres’ competency.

If the jury decides Torres is mentally competent, her case will proceed to trial in April. The judge ordered Torres to return to court Dec. 18 to schedule her mental competency trial. She remains in custody at the Stanislaus County jail.

Torres told investigators the child accidentally fell down the stairs from her second-floor apartment. Prosecutors have said the child’s injuries indicate Alexandra died at Torres’ hands.

Spiering has argued that the prosecution has not presented any evidence that points to a motive. He has said there was nothing to indicate Torres would “suddenly take it upon herself to beat this child.”

Torres had been baby-sitting the child for several months. She and Maria Guadalupe Cisneros, the child’s mother, had known each other for about eight years. Both lived at El Casa Verde apartments before Cisneros and her two children moved into a house with a relative a few blocks away.

Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees has said in court that authorities have to look at Alexandra’s injuries to determine how she died.

Stanislaus County forensic pathologist Sung-Ook Baik testified in the preliminary hearing that the child died from blunt-force injuries to her abdomen and her back. He also said he found tearing on the child’s liver, pancreas and left kidney.

Baik testified that he didn’t find skull fractures or cuts on the child’s skin, which would have been indications that Alexandra fell.

Editor's Choice Videos

Join the Discussion

The Modesto Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service