June 5, 2014

Modesto baby sitter gets maximum four-year sentence in toddler’s death

A Modesto baby sitter convicted in a toddler’s death received the maximum sentence Thursday but was discharged by a judge for time already served in the Stanislaus County Jail.

A Modesto baby sitter convicted in a toddler’s death received the maximum sentence Thursday but was discharged by a judge for time already served in the Stanislaus County Jail. If or when she will be released is unclear, though, because her U.S. residency status is in question.

A jury on May 13 decided that Maria Elena Torres was guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 18-month-old Alexandra Medina-Cisneros. The maximum sentence for such a charge is four years in prison.

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

The defendant did not speak in court during her sentencing hearing Thursday morning. Probation officials interviewed Torres on May 22 to give a sentencing recommendation to the court. They asked her what her sentence should be.

“I have already paid for my actions,” Torres said, according to the filed probation report. “I already paid for my negligence with these two years.”

The child’s mother remains angry and disillusioned by the jury’s verdict, and she did not attend the sentencing hearing. Probation officials interviewed her and included her statements in their report. “I considered her my friend,” Cisneros said about the defendant, according to the probation report. “I trusted her. How could she do that to my child?”

The grieving mother says Alexandra was a playful little girl. When she was pregnant with Alexandra, she was happy and grateful to learn she would be having a girl. “I just didn’t know I would only have her for such a short time,” Cisneros told probation officials.

The defendant has told authorities that she lost sight of the child and that the girl then accidentally fell down a 9-foot staircase outside Torres’ second-floor west Modesto apartment.

Authorities say Torres beat Alexandra to death by punching the toddler’s stomach. The toddler’s injuries included the tearing in half of her pancreas and left kidney, which prosecution experts testified could not have been caused by a fall.

A biomechanical engineer testified that he determined the child’s injuries could have been caused by a fall down concrete stairs, because pediatric abdominal organs are more vulnerable than adult organs.

The defendant was arrested the day after the child died and has remained in custody for nearly two years and four months. She received incarceration credit for good behavior while in custody, which resulted in four years and about seven months of time already served.

While Torres has finished serving her sentence for the child’s death, it’s unclear when she will be released from custody. It’s likely she will be handed over to immigration officials to start deportation proceedings.

The defendant’s status as a legal resident is being questioned and a felony conviction likely won’t help her cause. It will be up to federal authorities to decide whether Torres can remain in the country with her three children or be sent back to Mexico.

Deputy Public Defender Greg Spiering, Torres’ attorney, said the jury’s verdict clearly indicates that this was not a purposeful beating of the child but a death caused by negligence. He said his client is remorseful about Alexandra’s death.

“She was constantly tearful about the situation,” Spiering said after the sentencing hearing. He told the judge his client is willing to write Alexandra’s mother a letter to express her remorse or speak to her when the time is appropriate.

Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees said it’s clear from the probation report that Torres has shown no real remorse in this case, and the child’s mother does not want the defendant to try to contact her. “She never wants to lay eyes on Maria Torres again,” the prosecutor told the judge.

Rees said the defendant should receive the maximum sentence available because of the “callous and cruel nature of the crime. ... She deserves no further mercy from this court.”

Torres told investigators she tried to revive Alexandra by using CPR, applying rubbing alcohol and placing her under running cold water. An hour passed before the defendant went to the girl’s nearby home to get help. Torres said her phone wasn’t working.

“Why didn’t she call an ambulance for help? She didn’t call because she was responsible for her injuries,” Alexandra’s mother told probation officials.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Scott Steffen said he gave Torres the maximum sentence of four years because the child suffered significant injuries and was vulnerable while under the care of the defendant.

The judge ordered Torres to pay $1,083 in restitution for funeral and burial costs for Alexandra and counseling expenses for her family.

Had Torres been convicted of second-degree murder, she would have faced a maximum sentence of 15 years to life in prison. Instead, the jury of eight women and four men convicted Torres of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.

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