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May 6, 2014

Jury views video of police questioning defendant in Modesto toddler’s death

A jury on Tuesday viewed a video recording of police questioning Maria Elena Torres hours after a girl she was baby sitting was fatally injured in west Modesto two years ago.

Maria Elena Torres couldn’t believe it when an investigator told her the toddler she had been baby-sitting earlier that day had died. In a video recording of a police interview two years ago, Torres appears to be crying uncontrollably when she learns of the child’s death.

A jury that will decide Torres’ fate watched video clips of that police interview Tuesday during her trial. Torres cried in the courtroom as the jurors viewed that emotional portion of the video.

Modesto police Sgt. Martha Delgado questioned Torres during that interview at the Stanislaus Family Justice Center. Delgado served as a Spanish-language interpreter for Detective Jon Evers, who was lead investigator in the case.

Police questioned Torres the evening of Feb. 7, 2012, a few hours after 18-month-old Alexandra Medina-Cisneros suffered fatal injuries. Delgado testified Tuesday that Torres was emotional throughout the interview, but that she never saw any tears, including after Torres was told Alexandra was dead.

The defendant has told investigators that the child fell down a flight of stairs from her second-floor apartment in west Modesto. Her attorney has argued in court that his client has never changed her story about how the girl was injured.

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

The 2012 incident occurred at El Casa Verde apartments at Robertson Road and Sutter Avenue. Torres told investigators that she tried to revive Alexandra, trying CPR, applying rubbing alcohol on her and placing her under running cold water. The defendant said she then changed the girl’s clothes and went to the girl’s nearby home to get help.

It was 2:07 p.m. when Torres got Alexandra’s relative to call 911. Authorities believe an hour had passed before Torres had gone for help.

Delgado questioned Torres twice after the incident; the second interview occurred Feb. 8, 2012. The police sergeant told the jury there were inconsistencies in the defendant’s account of the events. In the first interview, Torres told investigators the incident had occurred about noon. In the second, she said it had occurred about 2 p.m.

She first told investigators she left her apartment to find Alexandra’s mother at their nearby home because the child’s mother should have been home by then. In the second interview, Torres said she was on her way to find a doctor but decided to stop at Alexandra’s home to get help there.

Delgado also testified that Torres said Alexandra’s mother never disciplined her children and let her kids do whatever they wanted. Delgado said the defendant admitted to hitting her children, but said she only gave Alexandra “time-outs.”

The jury has viewed a video recording of authorities questioning Torres’ eldest daughter, who said her mother would threaten to burn her with a lighter and had spanked her with a clothes hanger. Delgado testified that the child showed her a mark on the back of her leg from the hanger spanking.

Evers testified Tuesday afternoon that he never questioned a man who testified that he saw the child at the bottom of the stairs after she fell.

Sarun Un has said he ran from the apartment complex on the day he saw the child because there was an arrest warrant out for him, so he never told police his story. The following day, Un told a TV news reporter that he had seen the child fall down the stairs, which contradicts some of his testimony.

Un identifies himself as “Tony Suon” in the news report, and he testified that he sometimes goes by his middle name, Tony.

Evers told the jury Tuesday that he unsuccessfully tried to find Un using the name he had given to the TV news reporter. He also said he never contacted the TV news station or the reporter to help find Un.

Evers said he believes an eyewitness is important in an investigation, but he testified he didn’t continue looking for Un after his initial search using police databases. He said the investigation into Alexandra’s death “got kind of pushed aside” after he became involved in a triple homicide investigation that led to the arrests of seven people.

The detective said he hasn’t tried to question Un, even after he testified in last year’s preliminary hearing using his correct name. Evers said a child abuse expert says Alexandra couldn’t have died from a fall, and that Un has previous felony convictions that don’t make him a credible witness.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Scott Steffen told jurors Tuesday that it’s likely they will hear closing arguments and start deliberations by Thursday. Testimony in the trial is expected to continue today.

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