A prosecutor told a jury that a Turlock mother murdered her 2-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy by leaving her in a room without giving her water or food for nearly three days, knowing her actions could have grave results.
“This is a child who starved to death,” Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne told a jury. “This is a horror movie.”
A jury on Thursday afternoon found defendant Brandy Lee Rose Devine guilty of second-degree murder in the July 2012 death of her daughter, Stephanie Torres. The jury of six women and six men deliberated for about an hour before they returned to the courtroom with a verdict.
Devine also was found guilty of committing willful cruelty to a child with an enhancement of inflicting great bodily injury on the child, along with a misdemeanor charge of using methamphetamine. The defendant told authorities she smoked meth with an unknown man in her home while Stephanie remained alone in the room that weekend.
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Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves scheduled Devine to return to court Dec.13 for her sentencing hearing. Mayne said Devine faces a maximum sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
The defendant will remain in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail, where she has been held since her arrest shortly after Stephanie was found dead in her crib.
Before the jury started deliberations, the attorneys gave their closing arguments Thursday.
Marcus Mumford, Devine’s defense attorney, told the jury he wasn’t contesting the child cruelty and meth use charges. But he said his client didn’t know at the time that not feeding her child or giving her water would result in Stephanie’s death.
While Devine acted irresponsibly, Mumford said, her conduct was criminally negligent but not murder.
“I’m asking you not to commit two injustices by convicting Ms. Devine of murder,” the defense attorney told the jury.
Mayne and Deputy District Attorney Merrill Hoult prosecuted the case against Devine. They were seeking a guilty verdict on all counts, including the second-degree murder charge.
“If this case makes you angry, maybe it should,” Mayne told the jury. “Murdering a child in this fashion is monstrous.”
But he also asked the jurors to base their decision on the evidence, not their anger.
Pathologist Eugene Carpenter testified in the trial that Stephanie died from dehydration and malnourishment. He has said Stephanie had not been fed or given anything to drink for several days before she was found dead.
He said she had been dead a day or two before she was discovered in the crib about 12:30p.m. July16, 2012, at her family’s duplex in the 1100 block of North Denair Avenue in Turlock.
Mumford argued that Devine was screaming and crying moments after discovering her child in the crib. He said his client was distraught and in a state of shock. She only told a Turlock police detective later that she knew her actions were dangerous, Mumford said, because the detective was playing on her emotions and sadness during questioning.
Stephanie was prematurely born at 29weeks and had suffered complications that resulted from a lack of oxygen to the brain. The premature birth resulted in her chronic medical conditions.
The cerebral palsy forced Stephanie to undergo regular occupational therapy to improve her delayed motor skills. She also required a nightly dose of medication.
The prosecutor argued that Devine missed appointments for her daughter’s therapy sessions, and she left her inside a closed room for an entire weekend without giving her food, water and medication. Devine told the detective that she was feeling too ill to check on Stephanie and assumed her 6-year-old daughter would feed and look in on her younger sister.
Devine said she got up to use the bathroom several times that weekend, but she never stopped to check on Stephanie, who was in the nearby room.
“Stephanie is a few feet away, dying,” Mayne argued. The prosecutor also told the jury there was plenty of formula for Stephanie in the home, and she fed her other three children that weekend, including her infant son.
The prosecutor said these were all signs Devine knew of the dangers, but did nothing for Stephanie.
“She put that child in the room to die,” Mayne argued. “She just didn’t care, or she executed her child.”
Even though Stephanie was nearing her third birthday, her body appeared the size of a 1- or 2-year-old in her autopsy, according to the pathologist. He testified that the child weighed about 13 pounds and her eyes were soft and her skin was like red dough, both signs of a lack of water. He said her abdomen was caved in so much that her spine was almost visible.
The prosecutor told the jury there’s “no justice” for Stephanie, who should be a 4-year-old child, playing with her sisters. He said there was no reason for her to die.
“Stephanie Torres’ mother murdered her,” Mayne argued. “That is the reality.”