Arguments made over mental competency in Modesto baby sitter’s murder case

01/24/2014 5:14 PM

01/24/2014 10:43 PM

A defense attorney on Friday argued that his client should receive further treatment for depression before standing trial, accused of murder in the death of a girl she was baby-sitting in west Modesto.

Maria Elena 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 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 told the judge that his client has had a mental disorder for two years, and she has shown signs of major depression in her daily activities. He argued that her emotional instability could affect her ability to receive a fair judgment in a monthlong jury trial.

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 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.

Torres told Trompetter she was hearing 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.

Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees told the judge that Torres has experienced only auditory hallucinations that weren’t distracting and didn’t interfere with her ability to understand Trompetter’s questions. She said the hallucinations started after Torres’ suicide attempt, and that Torres is capable of manipulating the situation.

Steffen told the attorneys he will research the issue before making a ruling Tuesday. Torres remains in custody at the Stanislaus County jail awaiting her trial.

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