Four take plea deal in south Modesto child abuse and marijuana case

Four defendants on Wednesday pleaded no contest to charges involving a south Modesto home where an infant was beaten and police later found 200 marijuana plants in an indoor garden.

The 7-week-old girl, who has been identified in court as Samantha, survived her injuries. Wednesday, Deputy District Attorney Merrill Hoult told the judge that the child suffered several broken ribs, a lacerated spleen and liver, and bleeding and swelling in her brain.

An investigation into the infant’s injuries led authorities to her home, where the indoor marijuana garden and growing equipment were found inside. Four adult relatives living in the home, including the child’s parents, were arrested on various charges. The other children living in the home were ages 5 to 12.

Elizabeth Aguilar and Daniel Villasenor, Samantha’s parents, were formally charged with two counts of willful child cruelty resulting in great bodily injury, possessing marijuana for sale, illegally growing marijuana, stealing electricity and damaging power lines – all felonies. The defendants’ two children were living in the home.

The girl’s parents agreed to plea deals. Villasenor was convicted of one count of willful child cruelty with an enhancement of causing great bodily injury; the judge sentenced him to six years in prison. Prosecutors dropped his other charges as part of the plea deal.

Had the case reached a preliminary hearing, Hoult told the judge she would have presented evidence that showed Villasenor inflicted the injuries on his infant daughter on Nov. 8.

In an arraignment hearing last year, the prosecutor said Villasenor was alone with Samantha in a room before the baby was found with no signs of life. Hoult said the parents did not call 911 but took Samantha to a Modesto hospital themselves.

Four adults and seven children were living in the four-bedroom home in the 1000 block of Boulder Avenue. The prosecutor has said three of the four bedrooms were being used to grow marijuana.

Elizabeth Aguilar was convicted of illegally growing marijuana and was sentenced to time already spent in jail. Prosecutors dropped the remainder of her charges in exchange for her plea.

Raul Aguilar, Elizabeth Aguilar’s brother, was charged with willful child cruelty, possessing marijuana for sale and illegally growing marijuana; all of these charges were dropped. Instead, he was convicted of being an accessory. The prosecutor told the judge that he tried to help Villasenor avoid prosecution.

Like his sister, Raul Aguilar was sentenced to time already served in jail. Raul and Elizabeth Aguilar and Villasenor had been in custody since early November.

The fourth defendant in the case, Maria Hernandez, was released on bail two days after her arrest. She was convicted of two counts of misdemeanor child cruelty and sentenced to 270 days in jail. She was ordered to surrender at the jail Aug. 9.

The five other children that were living in the home are Raul Aguilar’s, and two of those children are his and Hernandez’s.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden ordered Raul and Elizabeth Aguilar to participate in parenting classes and to three years of probation. The judge ordered Hernandez to serve four years of probation and participate in parenting classes, as well.

Modesto police have said the two families were living in one room of the home and a converted closet. Investigators confiscated the marijuana plants found in the home, along with the growing equipment. The adults in the home were using stolen electricity to grow the marijuana, according to police.

Judge McFadden ordered that authorities destroy the marijuana seized at the home.