SAN FRANCISCO — A Sonoma County judge is considering terminating the parental rights of Ramon Salcido, accused of murdering six members of his family and a co-worker, even as Salcido tries to transfer custody of his one surviving daughter to relatives in Mexico, lawyers said Tuesday.
Sonoma County Public Defender Marteen Miller, Salcido's attorney, emerged from a closed hearing Tuesday and said Superior Court Judge Arnold Rosenfield had scheduled another hearing for next month to determine "whether the court has taken over the rights of the parents or guardians."
At the same time, Salcido, 28, is attempting to persuade Rosenfield to award custody of his daughter, Carmina, 3, to one of his family members in Mexico, Miller said.
"He just wants her to be with his family," Miller said, noting that Salcido's mother, sisters and other relatives have expressed a desire to care for Carmina.
Salcido, arrested in April near his mother's home in Los Mochis, Mexico, acknowledged killing his wife, Angela, and his boss at the Glen Ellen winery. He is also charged with killing Angela Salcido's mother and her two young sisters, as well as two of his three daughters. His trial on the seven murder charges is pending before the Sonoma County courts.
Salcido is also accused of attempting to murder Carmina by slitting her throat and leaving her for dead at a dump in Sonoma County on April 14. She was discovered the next day, along with the bodies of her two sisters, Sophia and Teresa.
Earlier this month, Rosenfield awarded temporary custody of Carmina to her maternal grandfather, Robert L. Richards, 54, of Cotati. Richards has hired a lawyer and is seeking permanent custody of the child.
"He lost all female members of his family except one little 3-year-old girl," said James DeMartini, Richards' attorney. "How would anyone feel about the alleged perpetrator coming in and attempting to maintain some type of control? And (for Salcido) to stick his family, who are probably very nice people, in the middle, it is macabre."
DeMartini said Richards was "crippled" by the gruesome affair. "Picture your whole female family being destroyed in a one-day holocaust. . . . He's out there trying to protect the last one."
Miller has said he is asking the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City to arrange for an investigation into the suitability of the homes of Salcido's family in Mexico. Sonoma County social workers are preparing a report for Rosenfield on the suitability of permanently placing Carmina with Richards.
Both DeMartini and Miller declined to discuss the custody matter in detail because such proceedings are not open to the public. DeMartini also said Richards has asked that he not talk about the case because "he wants to get on with his life." There also is a gag order in Salcido's criminal case.
Experts in custody matters say Salcido will have little success maintaining parental rights, even though he has not been convicted of slitting Carmina's throat.
Under a Welfare and Institutions Code provision that went into effect in January, a judge, acting on a request by county child protective services, can terminate a parent's rights within 120 days after finding clear and convincing evidence that the parent severely abused a child under the age of 5.
Sonoma County law enforcement authorities say that when Carmina was found in the landfill outside of Petaluma, she told sheriff's detectives, "My daddy cut me."
"Younger children have a much better chance of growing up normally and bonding the sooner they are placed (in an adoptive home). Where it's very serious abuse and the child is very young, we're not going to mess around," Jane Henderson said, explaining the reasoning behind the change.
Henderson is a consultant to the Senate Select Committee on Children and Youth, which is chaired by Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside), the author of the revision in the law.
"I think a judge would be hard pressed to send a child who is an American citizen to another country," said Christian R. Van Deusen, an Orange County attorney who specializes in difficult child custody matters.
"This child has been traumatized so much," Van Deusen continued. "If the only familiar person left in her life is removed, that would have a terrible impact on this child. . . .
"The judge is going to have to look ahead and determine where she is most likely to obtain the appropriate therapeutic services. If she leaves the country, who will make sure that this child is being properly treated for the trauma that she has undergone?"