Trial began Tuesday afternoon in Santa Maria Juvenile Court, where a judge will decide whether a 15-year-old girl murdered her newborn baby or was in deep denial about the birth.
The girl referred to as Maribel S. due to her age is charged with first-degree murder and use of a deadly weapon —a broccoli knife — in the death of a newborn baby boy Jan. 17.
Marian Regional Medical Center staff alerted police that the girl had recently given birth, telling officers the baby’s whereabouts were unknown.
The body of the baby was found in a plastic bag stuffed behind shoes in a bathroom vanity of her family’s apartment.
Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian said in her opening statement that the baby was born alive and had taken a breath, according to autopsy results, before the girl used a knife to slice the infant’s throat, almost decapitating the head.
Afterward, the girl cleaned up the bloody bathroom and put the child in a bag under the sink, Karapetian said.
The Internet search history on the girl’s phone revealed that in the weeks before the baby’s death, someone sought information about how to induce a miscarriage, the prosecuting attorney said.
Text messages found on the girl’s phone also reveal she knew she was pregnant but didn’t want to get into trouble, Karapetian added.
“And that is why she did what did,” Karapetian said.
Defense attorney Lea Villegas said the case involved pregnancy denial, a mental condition so powerful the woman may not recognize the physical manifestation of pregnancy and blame them on other reasons such as food poisoning.
Villegas said she will call an expert who will testify about the condition.
“It’s a disorder that causes a disruption of consciousness,” Villegas said.
In her interviews with police, Maribel wasn’t telling false stories, the defense attorney said.
“She wasn’t lying at any moment. The reality is she couldn’t remember,” Villegas said.
The defense attorney said the pregnancy denial arose as a coping skill for the girl who experienced trauma earlier in her life, including being left with family in Mexico and raped by cousins from ages 7 to 11.
“The evidence will prove that Maribel is not a murderer,” Villegas said.
Another defense expert will challenge police interview tactics, saying law enforcement officers in Britain abandoned the practice since it was likely to induce false confessions, Villegas said.
She urged the judge to keep an open mind as he viewed the “very disturbing photos,” contending the psychological injury her client faced due to earlier trauma “is just as real.”
Maribel’s boyfriend, now 17 years old, was called as the first witness, and said the girl denied being pregnant although they were sexually active.
“I just asked her if she was pregnant and she told me no,” he said, adding he noticed the girl’s stomach appeared to be growing
A Santa Maria police crime scene technician, Lydia Magdaleno, recalled taking pictures of the baby while the bag was partially open, seeing the spine and an arm.
“It was enough to know it definitely was an infant,’ she said.
A broccoli knife also was found stashed among clothing in the restroom, with specks of suspected blood found on the blade and handle.
The girl’s recorded first interview with police also was played in court, with Maribel recounting different stories about giving birth, claiming she didn’t know she was pregnant.
She also claimed the baby wasn’t moving or breathing at the time he was born.
“I thought it was dead already,” the girl told detectives, who repeatedly encouraged her to tell the truth.
Testimony will resume Wednesday in Juvenile Court.