Monday, June 18 , 2018, 11:48 am | Fair 65º


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Testimony Reveals Dead Newborn Suffered Multiple Stab Wounds

Murder charges have been filed against mother, a 15-year-old Santa Maria girl

A newborn baby who died shortly after his 15-year-old mother gave birth suffered multiple stab wounds, according to testimony Wednesday in Juvenile Court in Santa Maria. The judge in the case has barred news photographers from showing the girl;s face.
A newborn baby who died shortly after his 15-year-old mother gave birth suffered multiple stab wounds, according to testimony Wednesday in Juvenile Court in Santa Maria. The judge in the case has barred news photographers from showing the girl;s face. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A defense attorney is challenging the legality of the search that led Santa Maria police officers to discover the body of a 15-year-old girl’s newborn baby, which had suffered knife wounds and was found stuffed in a plastic bag hidden behind shoes in a bathroom vanity.

The circumstances surrounding the arrest of the girl earlier this year came to light Wednesday in a Santa Maria Juvenile Court hearing before Judge Arthur Garcia.

Defense attorney Lea Villegas has filed a motion to suppress evidence in the case against her client, questioning police officers about searches conducted with alleged consent but without a judge-signed warrant.

The girl, referred to as Maribel S. due to her age, was arrested in January after going to Marian Regional Medical Center, where staff determined she had recently given birth.

She is is facing one count of murder with use of a deadly weapon in connection with the newborn's death.

Santa Maria policep officers who testified said the case began as suspicious circumstances as they were uncertain whether a crime had occurred.

Officer Anthony Hernandez said he was dispatched to an apartment on the 200 block of East Tunnell Street just before 2 p.m. Jan. 17 regarding a 15-year-old hospitalized girl who said she gave birth earlier in the day and flushed the child down the toilet.

At the residence, he told the girl’s father he needed to search the apartment for information about why his daughter had been hospitalized.

“My plan was to enter the house and provide first aid for the child if it was alive, and see if I could save it,” Hernandez said under questioning from Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian.

In the restroom between the toilet and vanity, the officer said, he saw a bag with several tissues with red stains he believed to be blood.

“We did not see the bag move,” he said. “All we could see is blood.”

Police officers exited the residence and began treating it as a crime scene, eventually asking the girl’s father to sign a form consenting to a search of the apartment.

But Villegas questioned whether police read the consent-to-search form in Spanish to the girl’s father or if it was summarized. 

“To my recollection, he read the form to (Maribel’s father),” Hernandez said, adding he wasn’t certain.

After playing a recording of the interaction, Villegas asked if the officer heard his colleague read the form verbatim.

“He did not,” Hernandez said.

Officers also never spelled out that they were looking for possible dead baby in the residence, Hernandez said.

Other defense questions centered on the fact the officer read the notice in Spanish, although Mixteco is the man’s first language.

At hearings for his daughter’s case, the father has used a Mixteco interpreter, while his wife and Maribel rely on a Spanish translator to understand proceedings.

A second witness, Detective Andrew Brice, said hospital staff believed the girl had recently given birth because of the attached umbilical cord and placenta.

Interviewed at the hospital, the girl initially claimed the baby was stillborn, and the body was hidden in the bathroom vanity.

But upon further questioning, Maribel revealed more — the baby’s body had major injuries, Brice said.

The girl claimed the knife slipped as she attempted to cut the baby’s umbilical cord, he added.

“She told me she may have cut the baby here, here and here,” Brice said, pointing to his arm, chest and throat.

Based on the size of the placenta, the girl’s doctor believed it could have supported a viable birth, estimating the mother delivered the baby at 25 weeks.

Using the girl’s information, Brice said he looked inside the vanity, where he spotted a plastic bag after moving shoes.

“You could see the hair from the infant’s head through the plastic bag and what appeared to be the back of an infant child,” Brice said, recalling the very obviously deceased male infant.

After removing the baby from the bag, Brice observed the knife wounds including one so severe it exposed the spinal cord, he testified.

Brice returned to the hospital, taking the girl’s cell phone and getting her consent to search it, he said, while Villegas asked questions related to whether permission to check the electronic device came under duress.

Investigators weren’t certain whether the baby was alive or dead at birth, until the autopsy concluded the death was a homicide, Brice said.

Due to scheduling issues, it was uncertain late Wednesday afternoon if the hearing would continue Thursday or sometime next week. Villegas said she planned to call a nurse and a police officer to testify when the hearing resumes.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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