SANTA ANA — A 10-year-old boy Wednesday recounted in graphic detail a morning of alleged torture by his aunt, Cynthia Medina, which he said began when she accused him of playing with an ashtray he believed contained "weed."
Under gentle questioning from Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles Middleton, the boy told jurors that Medina, who is charged with felony child abuse and torture, seared his tongue with a heated butter knife.
The boy said Medina then held him down while she used a miniature baseball bat to anally penetrate him twice, an attack so severe the child spent a month in the hospital and was temporarily fitted with a colostomy bag.
The boy adamantly denied that he accidentally fell on the bat during a paddling, and said his aunt had told him to lie about what happened.
"She said . . . please lie for me so I don't have to go to jail," the youngster testified.
Medina, a former playground supervisor, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. She sat shaking and crying through much of the opening day of Superior Court testimony in a case that marks the first local use of a torture charge in a child abuse case.
The 32-year-old Orange woman is charged with three counts of felony child abuse and one count of torture. She faces a potential life sentence if convicted of torture and found sane. The charges also include allegations that she physically abused her 9-year-old son, as well as her nephew, in the year before the Sept. 7 attack that resulted in her arrest.
If Medina is convicted, a second phase of the trial would be held to determine if she was insane at the time of the attack.
Wednesday's testimony from the boy and Medina's son also brought emotional responses from family members who attended the trial, including Edward Medina, who pleaded guilty last month to charges that he did nothing to halt the abuse.
Her attorney contended, however, in his opening statements to the jury that Medina was insane at the time of the attack, and that she never intended to torture the boy.
"This is a very sad case," defense attorney Richard C. Gilbert told jurors. "This case is a picture of insanity."
Gilbert said the boy's parents made a tragic "mistake" when they abandoned him to Medina, whom he described as "someone (who is) seriously mentally ill."
He asked the jurors to consider the case as one of great complexity. "In all of this madness, you will see there is a great love and affection between this precious child and this defendant," he said.
As to the allegations that she abused her son, Gilbert told jurors he believes the evidence is "insufficient" and that there is nothing illegal about using "corporal punishment."
At one point during questioning of a witness, Gilbert attempted to suggest that Medina may have been influenced by campaign literature from her assemblyman outlining his proposal to allow authorities to paddle youthful graffiti offenders.
Much of the day was taken up by the prosecution case against Medina, which included medical reports and graphic testimony from the nephew, who is in the care of a foster family. The Medinas' son is in the custody of his grandparents.
The nephew said he had been living with his aunt and uncle about two years before the day of the Sept. 7 beating, which he said began with a dispute over an ashtray that he believed contained "some kind of drug."
"Did you play with the ashtray like your aunt thought you had?" Middleton asked the boy.
"No," he replied.
But the boy said his aunt didn't believe him and started striking him with various objects, including the bat, a belt and a broken hockey stick. His face twisted with pain as he looked at photographs of his injuries and described how his hands became bruised as he tried to ward off the blows.
"Did those injuries hurt?" Middleton asked.
"Yes," the boy answered.
Before responding to questions from his aunt's attorney, the boy asked for a break to wipe his eyes with a tissue and waved at relatives seated in the courtroom.
In earlier testimony, county social worker Susan Walker described the boy's abuse as "the worst case I ever encountered."
"The pain in his eyes, I recall that vividly," Walker testified as the prosecutor showed her photos of the boy's injuries.
Paramedics arrived at the Medina home and rushed the boy to the hospital, where he required emergency surgery for severe internal injuries, according to testimony by Dr. John German, who performed the operation.
Under cross-examination from Gilbert, the doctor said he was not aware of Medina's psychological background and conceded the boy could have fallen on the bat in a "freak accident." But the doctor said he knows of such injuries being caused by "willful intent."