SANTA ANA — An Orange County Superior Court jury Tuesday convicted a woman of torturing her 10-year-old nephew by sodomizing him with a small bat, and found she was sane when she committed the crime, making her the first person in Orange County found guilty of torturing a child.
Cynthia Medina, 32, of Orange kept her face turned and trembled violently while the guilty verdict was read. Besides torture, which carries a maximum life sentence, Medina was convicted of felony child abuse and misdemeanor assault.
Medina, a former playground supervisor, was charged with torture last year when authorities discovered she had beaten her nephew with an electrical cord, repeatedly burned his tongue with a heated butter knife, and then used a wooden souvenir bat to anally penetrate him twice Sept. 7.
She had pleaded innocent by reason of insanity.
Medina's attorney, Richard C. Gilbert, said he was disappointed with the verdict but not surprised given the nature of the charges. Gilbert had conceded to jurors that Medina had severely abused her nephew, but argued she was innocent because she was not conscious of what she was doing and could not distinguish right from wrong.
"The level of anger within people is so great about this case that I think it would be difficult for any jury to evaluate the issues dispassionately," Gilbert said.
"It's like trying to seat a dispassionate jury to try Adolf Hitler," he said. "It just can't be done."
The boy, who had been living with his aunt and uncle, had to be hospitalized for a month because of his injuries and was temporarily fitted with a colostomy bag. He testified during the trial that the torture started after Medina accused him of playing with an ashtray that contained marijuana, although he denied it.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles Middleton said after the verdict that the case was one of the worst examples of child abuse he has ever seen. He was pleased with the verdict.
"The facts of this case certainly fit within the definition of torture, and obviously the jury agreed," Middleton said. "You don't see that many of these cases with the intentional graduation of injuries."
The felony child abuse conviction stemmed from separate incidents in which Medina kicked her nephew in the groin and broke his teeth by dashing his face against a sink. The jury also convicted her of misdemeanor assault for breaking her 9-year-old son's finger during another beating.
About a half-dozen of Medina's relatives were in court during the proceeding. As the verdict was read, Medina's husband, Edward Medina, lowered his head. Her sister, Ernestine Garcia, took his hand.
Edward Medina pleaded guilty last month to charges of child endangerment for failing to prevent the alleged torture and abuse. He is scheduled to be sentenced the same day as his wife June 9.
She could be eligible for parole in seven years, Gilbert said.
Outside the courtroom, the father of the torture victim, whose name is being withheld to protect the boy's identity, said Medina belongs in prison.
"I know that no one in life deserved what my son received. I saw the pictures of him afterwards," the Riverside man said as his eyes filled with tears.
The jury reached its verdict Monday afternoon after deliberating only 90 minutes, but the announcement was delayed until Tuesday. Immediately after the verdict was read, the trial entered a second phase to determine if Medina was sane when she committed the crimes.
The jury deliberated another hour Tuesday afternoon before finding Medina sane.
One juror, who asked not to be identified, said that almost everyone on the jury "came to tears" at one point or another in their deliberations, which came following three days of testimony.
"It was a sad, emotional case," the juror said, adding that the jury had to "discuss a lot of things," especially testimony from medical experts about Medina's mental state.
Two court-appointed psychiatrists testified Tuesday and two others submitted statements saying Medina was sane when she committed the crimes.
"I couldn't find any evidence she was not able to know that what she was doing at the time was wrong," said Dr. Ernest Klatte. "She knew it was wrong at the time and she knew it was illegal. She had just lost her temper and lost control of herself."
A psychologist determined she had been temporarily insane, a condition, he said, that stemmed from deep depression and stress, and that she is remorseful for her actions.
Gilbert had urged jurors to keep an open mind.
"You know you feel she belongs in a mental institution," he told them.
Middleton urged jurors to hold her responsible for her actions. Characterizing her as a "strong woman who was known to be stern with children," Middleton said the abuse must have taken conscious effort and planning.
"Just because somebody has depression, just because somebody cries a lot, just because somebody might sit and stare at the desk in front of them, it doesn't mean legal insanity," he told the jury.