SANTA ANA — A 10-year-old Orange boy told police his aunt choked him unconscious, seared his tongue with a red-hot knife and made him take off his clothing--so they wouldn't be bloodied--before she sodomized him with a souvenir baseball bat as punishment, according to court records.
The boy's statements are included in the court case against his aunt, Cynthia Medina, a playground supervisor at an elementary school who appeared in court Friday on four felony counts of child abuse and one count of torture. Medina's arrest marks the first time a person in Orange County has been charged with torture since the law was put on the books in 1990.
The boy told police his aunt also ordered her husband to remain in another room where he was watching television during the Sept. 7 beating because she did not want him to interfere. The boy said he screamed "Tio, help me!" yet his uncle never responded, according to court records.
But at one point, the uncle, Edward Medina, finally told his wife the boy might die if the beating persisted, according to the boy's account to police. The boy said his aunt responded: "I don't give a (expletive)," court records show.
Prosecutors contend Cynthia Medina, 31, beat the boy after becoming enraged to find he was playing with her marijuana cigarettes.
Prosecutor Charles J. Middleton said the attack caused such serious internal injuries that the boy nearly died and had to be fitted with a colostomy bag.
"She was concerned he might have been playing around with her marijuana cigarettes" after she found the child's fingerprints in the ashtray, said Middleton, head of the sexual assault and child abuse unit of the Orange County district attorney's office.
But defense attorney Richard C. Gilbert said the charges in the case are trumped up, and that his client is being used as a guinea pig to experiment with a new law.
"She is remorseful for some of the conduct--other conduct she denies," Gilbert said. He said his client was "lacking" in parenting skills and may have caused some injuries, but did not sodomize him.
"You walk over to Juvenile Court now, and you'll see a hundred of these cases," he said, declining to elaborate.
Middleton said he was shocked that Gilbert would make such a statement.
"We don't see these kinds of cases here," Middleton said.
The boy remains hospitalized. Medina's own son, 9, has been placed at Orangewood Children's Home, the county's home for neglected and abused children.
Orange County Supervisor William G. Steiner, the former head of the foundation that raises money for Orangewood, was incensed that the defense attorney would intimate that the abuse in the case was not extraordinary.
"It's not the first case where a child has been tortured in Orange County, and it won't be the last," he said. "But in all these years, it's one of the worst that I've heard of. This kid almost was killed. We've had kids that have been burned by their parents. We've had children that have been beaten with ropes and electrical cords. But it's been rare that a child has been violated sexually as has been described with this little boy."
In court Friday, Cynthia Medina held her hand to cover her face from news cameras and spoke only to agree to have her arraignment postponed to Sept. 30.
Central Municipal Court Judge Richard W. Stanford Jr. raised Medina's bail to $100,000 after the prosecutor said he considered her a flight risk and danger to children.
Police said Edward Medina remains under investigation. He appeared at the arraignment but refused to comment. The couple were apparently caring for the child because his parents could not.
"These are just horrific injuries," Middleton said outside of court. "It's just unbelievable what an adult would do to a child."
The county's child abuse registry received notification from a physician at 4:40 p.m. Sept. 8--the day after the boy was injured, said Lt. Timm) Browne, spokesman for the Orange Police Department.
Police said the report came five hours after the doctor examined the boy.
But Dr. Annette C. Bernhut said police were mistaken. She issued a statement Friday, through her office, denying any delay: "As a matter of policy, Annette Bernhut and this office report suspected child abuse immediately to appropriate governmental agencies. In this case, this protocol was followed."
Bernhut later said in an interview: "Because of patient confidentiality, I cannot provide you with more specific information other than the case was reported immediately. I don't know what happened after that. I care very much about children and in particular this issue. That is why I am a doctor."
Authorities said that any delay would be critical in considering the boy's injuries. After the physician's report to the Orange County Social Services Agency, a social services worker drove to the boy's home and met a police officer there.