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Wife Now Says Husband Beat Child Regularly

Courts: Gabriela Hernandez says she is willing to testify he often hit her and their daughter who died. They face murder charges.

May 11, 1997|LORENZA MUNOZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A teenage mother facing a murder and child abuse trial along with her husband in the death of their 2-year-old girl said Saturday that she never hurt the child and is now willing to testify that her husband did.

Gabriela Hernandez, 19, whose daughter Joselin died in June 1996, said in a jail interview that her husband, Rogelio or "Roy," regularly abused her and the toddler.

"I just want to say what really happened," said Hernandez, who remains at the Ventura County Honor Farm. "I tried to help Joselin, but Roy would hit her harder. He would tell me that he wanted to discipline her the way he had been disciplined."

Her attorney, who was not involved in the interview, declined to comment. Public defender Jim Harmon, who represented Rogelio in an April hearing, said he is no longer handling the case and referred questions to attorney Doug Daily, who could not be reached.

The couple have pleaded not guilty to all charges related to Joselin's death and beating.

Gabriela Hernandez has been ordered to stand trial on murder and felony child abuse charges, as well as three separate counts of child abuse stemming from a 1994 beating of the child that resulted in fractured ribs, fractured ankles and burns on her 6-week-old hands, feet and genitals.

Her 19-year-old husband will also stand trial on murder and felony child abuse charges for the toddler's death, in addition to six charges of felony child abuse and torture in the 1994 beatings.

In an emotional hearing in January, attorney William Maxwell argued that Gabriela Hernandez should not face charges, especially murder, because no witnesses ever saw her strike Joselin.

But prosecutors argued and a judge agreed that she had failed to protect her child from the abuse. "I think she knew that her child was being abused by her husband," Superior Court Judge Steven Z. Perren said at the end of the 10-day hearing.

The case frustrated Ventura County social workers, who took the child away from the teenage couple in 1994, only to see Joselin returned to her parents after her grandmother died last year. Despite frequent visits by social workers and warnings from family members, Joselin died three months after returning to her parents' care.

In Saturday's interview, Gabriela Hernandez said she met Rogelio when she was 12 and married him when she was 15. Now, she said, she is ready to divorce him.

She said her husband regularly beat her and the child, but she never called the police or told friends and family because she thought the beatings would end.

At one point, Hernandez said, she contemplated taking away Joselin and her younger son Rogelio Jr., but she changed her mind, hoping the beatings would stop.

"I didn't want my children to be without a father," she said. "And I always thought he would change."

She said she tried to stop Rogelio from hitting Joselin but that her husband would become more violent and take it out on the baby.

She said the child began feeling ill about one week before she died. Thinking Joselin was constipated, Gabriela Hernandez said they took her to a curandero, or healer, where she was given a green, salty solution to drink.

But the baby began vomiting and got worse, she said. She recalls Roy telling her a few days before the child began getting sick that, in an attempt to discipline the baby for doing something wrong, he placed his knee on her stomach and then heard a faint "popping" sound.

"My little girl was always afraid of him," she said.

The medical examiner has determined that Joselin died from being struck by a blunt object that ripped her intestine.

On Saturday, Hernandez expressed frustration with her lawyer, saying she has formally filed for a change of attorney twice, but each time the request has been denied.

Hernandez, a soft-spoken woman who speaks English but prefers Spanish, said she is not comfortable with a male attorney because she doesn't "trust men." She also wants a bilingual paralegal and a battered-women's counselor to assist her. She also said that several witnesses who could help her defense have not been contacted.

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