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May 8, 2014

Jury begins deliberations in murder trial for Modesto baby sitter

A jury on Thursday afternoon began deliberations in a trial for a Modesto baby sitter accused of murder in the 2012 death of an 18-month-old girl. The jurors were expected to continue deliberating Friday morning.

A defense attorney on Thursday told a jury that Alexandra Medina-Cisneros fell down a flight of a stairs in west Modesto and died as a result of that accident. Alexandra was in the care of her baby sitter, Maria Elena Torres, when she suffered her fatal injuries.

Deputy Public Defender Greg Spiering argued that the prosecution’s theory that Torres beat the toddler to death is not supported by the evidence. He asked the jurors, “Does it even make sense to attack a child with your own two kids in the apartment?”

Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees told the jury that Alexandra’s extensive internal injuries, including a pancreas and left kidney that were torn in two, do not indicate she fell down the stairs outside Torres’ second-floor apartment.

The prosecutor argued that Torres punched the 18-month-old child in the belly and caused her death. Rees said, “The injuries on Alexandra are her voice, and they speak volumes.”

The attorneys concluded their closing arguments Thursday afternoon. The jury of eight women and four men began deliberating about 2:30 p.m. Thursday. The jurors were expected to continue deliberations Friday morning.

Torres is on trial accused of murder in Alexandra’s death. She also faces an alternative charge of assault on a child causing death.

The incident occurred Feb. 7, 2012, at El Casa Verde apartments at Robertson Road and Sutter Avenue. Torres and Alexandra’s mother were longtime friends, and the defendant watched the child while the girl’s mother was at work.

Maria Guadalupe Cisneros testified that she had called Torres’ home earlier in the day to check on her daughter. She told the jury that everything was fine, and she and the defendant even had joked a bit as they usually did.

The defense attorney argued that his client’s demeanor that morning doesn’t match what the prosecution thinks happened a few hours later. Spiering asked the jury, “Is this someone who is about to snap and pummel and beat a child to death?”

The prosecutor argued that Torres was overwhelmed with taking care of her children and Alexandra. Rees told the jury that Torres was late with preparing the afternoon meal, her husband was on his way home from his first day back at work, her kids were cranky and Alexandra was crying again, “setting up this frantic atmosphere.”

Torres and her husband had argued over Alexandra, because he felt her hands already were full with their own children, according to the prosecutor. Rees argued that Torres didn’t want to baby sit Alexandra anymore, but she felt obligated because Cisneros had done the same for her.

Spiering argued that there was nothing frantic about that day, telling the jurors that Torres already had started to prepare the meal for her husband, and the kids already had eaten. He said authorities never established the timeline for that day, because Modesto police investigators didn’t do anything after they arrested Torres on Feb. 8, 2012.

“Those opportunities are lost to us now because of their actions or inactions,” Spiering argued.

The investigators did not check on the soap operas Torres said she was watching at the time of the incident. The defense attorney said the investigators never spoke with Sarun Un, even after he testified in last year’s preliminary hearing that he had spotted the child at the bottom of the stairs that afternoon.

Un’s credibility has been challenged in court, because he said he ran from the apartment complex and didn’t speak to police. Un told a TV news reporter two days after the incident that he had seen the child fall down the stairs, which contradicted part of his testimony.

Spiering told the jurors that his client has been forthright and consistent in her statements to investigators, and that there’s no motive that supports the prosecution’s assault theory. John Gardiner, a biomechanical engineer, testified that he determined it would have been possible for Alexandra to fall down those stairs and suffer those internal injuries.

Torres’ eldest daughter told authorities that her mother had hit her before with a sandal, a clothing hanger and a belt. Spiering argued that the 8-year-old girl followed up those statements with information that exonerated her parents.

Yadira Sanchez and her mother used to live next door to Torres in south Modesto before she moved about six years ago. Torres’ son is Sanchez’s godson. Sanchez and her mother testified Wednesday that they never saw signs that Torres was abusive to her children.

“I believe she was a really good mom,” Sanchez told the jury.

Police questioned and released Torres on the evening of Feb. 7, 2012. Because she wasn’t allowed to be with her children, she spent that night at Sanchez’s home.

When Torres arrived at Sanchez’s home that night, Sanchez said, Torres was trembling, upset and crying. Sanchez testified that Torres kept repeating in Spanish, “My little girl, she fell.” Torres also kept repeating “My little girl, she died.”

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