DA dismisses charges against mother accused of killing infant
By Raul Hernandez
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
The Ventura County District Attorney’s Office dismissed felony charges today against a woman who was accused of assaulting her 4-month-old daughter who died earlier this year.
Deputy District Attorney Thomas Dunlevy declined to comment about the dismissal of the charges. However, he stated in a motion to dismiss that the criminal charges were dropped on the grounds that the offense cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt based on conclusions contained in the autopsy report by the Ventura County Medical Examiner.
Chief Medical Examiner Ronald O’Halloran ruled last month that the April 30 death of Guadalupe Cardoza, from blunt-force trauma, was an accident. The death was attributed to an accidental fall.
The 23-year-old mother Cecilia Garcia Cortes of Oxnard has been in jail under a $500,000 bail since her arrest in May.
Ventura County Superior Court Edward Brodie granted the prosecution’s motion to dismiss the charges.
Cortes’ lawyer, Barbara Lewis who works for the Public Defender’s Office, said she was happy that the charges had been dismissed and pleased with the outcome.
“I am very pleased and relieved and I think they came to the right decision,” Lewis said in an interview.
In the courtroom, relatives of Cortes said they were happy she was being freed.
“I am very happy. We thank God,” said Cortes’ sister, Marisela Fernandez, adding that Cortes now has to get back her two other children from state child protective services.
Lewis criticized the statement of facts filed by Dunlevy to support the district attorney’s motion to dismiss, criticizing how police interrogated her client from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., using tremendous pressure to get a confession.
“In the course of their investigation, they (Oxnard police officers) interviewed the infant’s mother, Cecilia Cortes. In the course of the interview, Cortes admitted that on April 27, 2009, she became frustrated with her baby because she would not stop crying. Cortes admitted that she raised the infant over her head and shook her violently for approximately seven minutes. Cortes demonstrated to the detective the manner in which she shook the infant using a stuffed animal,” Dunlevy’s motion states.
Lewis said the entire interrogation is on videotape, and it contradicts what detectives are saying.
“She never said she shook the baby violently. What they are taking is a statement that was made after hours of questioning,” Lewis said. “During that course of that questioning, they told her repeatedly that she had caused injury to the child and they basically convinced her that she had caused injury to the child. For hours, she insisted that she did not.”
Lewis said Cortes showed police how she held the baby over her head.
“She never described a violent shaking motion. What she described was a rocking back and forth motion that parents are familiar with in order to comfort the child. She cried and said, ‘I didn’t know that could hurt the baby.’”
Lewis said an officer who questioned Cortes said “there is no question that you did this. The question is whether you did this because you were frustrated or you are a monster.”
The medical examiner concluded that the defendant’s “shaking of the baby” was not the cause of death, according to Dunlevy’s motion.
Death was a result of an accidental fall onto the floor of a vehicle in which the baby landed on her head, the motion states.
Cortes’ boyfriend, Victor Hugo, said after the hearing that the baby slid from his arms and fell inside the truck as he got her out of her baby seat. He said he admitted to police that he dropped the child, saying they interviewed him for more than three hours. He said he took a lie-detector test.
“I was telling the truth. I never asked for a lawyer,” Hugo said.
The treating physician at Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles concluded the baby had suffered from shaken baby syndrome and not “non-accidental injuries,” Dunlevy stated in his motion.
Lewis argued that a doctor’s suspicion is “far different than conclusive evidence.”
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