A Ceres mother on Monday pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to more than four years in prison in the 2010 drowning of her 2-year-old son, who was found dead in the deep end of the family's murky swimming pool.
Florcita Valdez, 36, initially was charged with murder in the death of her son, Aureliano Joel Valdez, along with three counts of child endangerment. The victims listed in the criminal complaint were Aureliano, Valdez's 15-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son.
The defendant agreed to a plea deal that resulted in a sentence of four years four months in prison. Along with the manslaughter charge, Valdez pleaded no contest to one count of child endangerment for not providing adequate care to her 9-year-old son when the drowning occurred.
The rest of the charges were dropped as part of the plea agreement with the prosecution. Deputy District Attorney Marlisa Ferreira told the judge that under the circumstances, this was the best agreement.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden told the defendant she will have to serve 85 percent of her sentence. She has served about a year of that time in county jail.
Valdez was taken into custody and criminally charged Feb. 9, 19 months after the drowning occurred July 18, 2010. The prosecutor told the judge that Valdez's children are in the care of her father.
Ceres police have said there was a fence around the pool, but the gate leading to the pool area was open when officers arrived at the home on Larson Lane in Ceres, minutes after Valdez reported her son missing. Algae in the water allowed little visibility.
Had the case reached a preliminary hearing or a trial, the prosecutor told the judge Monday that the evidence would have shown that Valdez knowingly left Aureliano in the care of his teenage sister, who has a mental disability. Ferreira said Valdez's decision knowingly put Aureliano's life at risk and ultimately caused his death.
Moment to say goodbye
Valdez used tissues to wipe away tears during the hearing, which lasted about 20 minutes. Her father and her son sat in the courtroom audience. They declined to comment.
As the judge ordered the defendant to be transferred to state corrections officials, Valdez asked the judge, "Can I say goodbye to my son?" The bailiffs allowed Valdez, wearing red inmate clothing and shackles, to momentarily face the courtroom audience.
Valdez said, "I love you, son. I love you, Dad," as the bailiffs ushered her out of the courtroom.
In a bail review hearing in April, Ferreira argued in court that Valdez's relatives reported to Ceres police that the mother was neglecting her children, allowing her two boys to roam the streets alone. She said Child Protective Services had contacted Valdez nine times because the home was filthy and the neglect was "putting her children at great risks."
After numerous warnings, Valdez left Aureliano under the supervision of her daughter the evening he drowned, the prosecutor told the judge.
At the April hearing, defense attorney Stephen Foley argued that Valdez's daughter had sneaked into the pool area with neighborhood kids, without her mother's knowledge, and left the gate open. He characterized the child's death as an accident.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.