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April 29, 2014

Child abuse expert: Modesto toddler didn’t die from accidental fall

A child abuse expert on Tuesday told a jury that he doesn’t believe an 18-month-old Modesto girl died from an accidental fall down a flight a stairs, as her baby sitter claims.

A child abuse expert on Tuesday told a jury that he doesn’t believe an 18-month-old Modesto girl died from an accidental fall down a flight a stairs, as her baby sitter claims.

Dr. James Crawford Jakubiak testified that Alexandra Medina-Cisneros suffered extensive internal injuries and scattered bruising on various parts of her body, which are more consistent with children who have been assaulted.

“In my opinion, falling down the stairs is not why she died,” Jakubiak told the jurors. “I think she was beaten to death.”

Authorities believe the toddler died from blunt force trauma injuries at the hands of Maria Elena Torres, who is on trial accused of murder in Alexandra’s death.

The defendant has told investigators that the child accidentally fell down a flight of stairs from her second-floor apartment in west Modesto. The defense attorney has argued that the evidence doesn’t support the prosecution’s theory of an assault and said a witness will testify that he spotted the child at the bottom of the stairs that day.

The incident occurred Feb. 7, 2012, at El Casa Verde apartments at Robertson Road and Sutter Avenue. Torres and the child’s mother were longtime friends. The defendant’s children were at home with their mother when Alexandra was injured.

Jakubiak is the medical director at the Center for Child Protection at Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland. He was hired by the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office to review the case and provide his opinion on what caused the child’s death.

He said he reviewed records of the lifesaving attempts on the child, as well as Alexandra’s medical history. He also reviewed the coroner’s report and police reports in the investigation, along with numerous photos of the child’s injuries.

The photos were shown in court Tuesday afternoon, and it was apparent some of the jurors had trouble viewing them. Jakubiak warned the jury that the photos would be difficult to look at. Alexandra’s mother, who attended the trial, left the courtroom before they were projected onto a large screen.

The child abuse expert testified that he has seen similar injuries on children before, but they are typically in cases where adults have admitted to hitting the children. He said Alexandra suffered extensive, nonpattern bruising on her stomach, which can happen in a child’s fall but is not common.

Jakubiak also said Alexandra had a relatively uninjured skull, with only a small bruise. He told the jury that she had only a scrape on her thumb, and that she should have suffered a significant number of scrapes falling down a staircase with about 15 concrete stairs and metal railings.

He said the toddler’s bruises were not symmetrical, as would be expected from falling down on stairs separated by about 11 inches. While bruises on active children can be common, he said Alexandra’s bruises and her internal injuries were “profoundly abnormal.”

An autopsy found tearing on the child’s liver, pancreas and left kidney. Her pancreas and left kidney were torn in two, and her right kidney was badly bruised.

Jakubiak testified that the child suffered extensive and widely distributed traumatic injuries, some of which were lethal. He said Alexandra suffered major internal bleeding and bled to death from her injuries.

Testimony in the trial is expected to continue today in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

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