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April 22, 2014

Trial starts for Modesto baby sitter accused in girl’s death

The prosecution and defense on Tuesday prepared a jury for testimony they’ll hear about the death of an 18-month-old girl who suffered fatal injuries while in the care of her baby sitter in west Modesto.

A prosecutor on Tuesday prepared a jury for testimony they’ll hear about the death of an 18-month-old girl who suffered fatal injuries while in the care of her baby sitter in west Modesto.

Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees told the jurors that Alexandra Medina-Cisneros died from blunt force trauma injuries at the hands of Maria Elena Torres. She said they’ll hear testimony from a forensic pathologist who found tearing on the child’s liver, pancreas and left kidney.

“You’ll see the damage done to 18-month-old Alexandra in photos and testimony,” Rees said to the jury.

Deputy Public Defender Greg Spiering told the jury that they’ll hear testimony that doesn’t support the prosecution’s theory that the child’s death was from assault.

Torres told a 911 dispatcher, the child’s mother and investigators that Alexandra accidentally fell down a flight of stairs from her second-floor apartment. Spiering said in court that she has never changed her story, and he has a witness who will testify that he saw the child at the bottom of the stairs.

“At the conclusion of this case, I’ll ask that you find that this was not intentional blunt force trauma,” Spiering told the jurors.

A trial for Torres, 33, started Tuesday with opening statements from the attorneys. The trial is estimated to last about three weeks in Stanislaus Superior Court.

The defendant faces a charge of murder and assault on a child younger than 8 years old. The incident occurred Feb. 7, 2012, at El Casa Verde apartments at Robertson Road and Sutter Avenue.

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

Spiering told the jury that Cisneros will testify that she never suspected there were any problems with Torres’ care of her daughter. Cisneros would call Torres during her lunch breaks at work to see how her daughter was doing. She called Torres about 11:30 a.m. on the day of the incident, and there were no problems at that point.

Torres’ three children were also with her when Alexandra was injured. Spiering argued that neighbors were sometimes unhappy because Torres could be inattentive as her children played on the second-floor landing near the top of the stairs.

At one point, Torres lost sight of Alexandra. She went outside and found the child at the bottom of the stairs, Spiering said.

At 2:07 p.m., the defendant ran to Alexandra’s nearby home and asked the relative there to call for help. Rees told the jury that an hour had passed before Torres went for help.

The prosecutor said Torres tried to revive Alexandra, then bathed her before changing the girl’s clothes and running across the street to get help. The defendant told investigators that her home phone wasn’t working and her cellphone’s battery was dead. Rees argued that investigators later that day discovered her home phone was working.

Spiering told the jurors that Torres had reported to the landlord before the incident that her home phone would sometimes not work. He also said some of the bruises found on Alexandra might be the result of Torres’ attempt at CPR.

The defense attorney played for the jury a recording of Torres speaking to a 911 dispatcher. In Spanish, Torres frantically said, “She’s fainted. The little girl fell, and I’m afraid she’s going to die.”

Modesto Officer Jason Stewart arrived at Alexandra’s home that afternoon and found Torres pacing, holding the injured child like a football with her arms and legs dangling. Rees told the jurors that a child abuse expert will testify that Alexandra’s death was the result of a severe beating.

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