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Doctors Testify for Defense in Toddler's Slaying

Courts: Emergency room physicians are called by attorneys for a mother and father charged in the beating death of their 2-year-old daughter.

December 23, 1997|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After five weeks of testimony from 47 prosecution witnesses, jurors in the murder trial of Gabriela and Rogelio Hernandez heard testimony Monday from the first--and possibly last--two defense witnesses called by the Oxnard mother's attorney.

Ventura lawyer William C. Maxwell, who is representing the 19-year-old defendant, called to the witness stand Monday two emergency room physicians who examined slain toddler Joselin Hernandez last year.

He does not, however, plan to call Gabriela Hernandez to the witness stand despite telling the jury in opening statements that the young mother was a battered woman unable to protect herself or her child from Rogelio's alleged attacks.

The doctors testified briefly about blood tests and X-rays taken of the 2-year-old child after she was pronounced dead at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard on June 22, 1996.

Due to a scheduling mix-up, the defense's third and final witness, another doctor, could not appear in court Monday and jurors were sent home for the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, Deputy Public Defender Douglas Daily, who is representing the 20-year-old father, said that he plans to call about eight witnesses when testimony resumes Dec. 30.

The relatively short list of defense witnesses lined up to testify means that the case could wrap up by late next week, Superior Court Judge James P. Cloninger told the jury.

Gabriela and Rogelio Hernandez are charged with murder and multiple counts of felony and misdemeanor child abuse in connection with their daughter's slaying. They also face charges for injuries Joselin suffered as an infant in 1994.

Joselin Hernandez was killed as a result of blunt blows to her abdomen, possibly caused by someone kicking or punching her, according to court testimony.

Prosecutors allege that Rogelio Hernandez beat his little girl to death. They contend that he also tortured and abused her. Gabriela has been charged on the grounds she failed to protect Joselin.

During their joint trial, prosecutors called relatives, neighbors, doctors, social workers, police officers and child abuse experts to testify about injuries they observed or treated on the toddler.

Defense attorneys have suggested that the child's injuries occurred as a result of two ignorant young parents who did not know what they were doing when they had a child at age 16.

Maxwell also planned to illicit testimony from experts about his client's alleged abuse at the hands of her husband.

But on the eve of trial, he was dealt a blow when Cloninger ruled that testimony about any incidents of spousal battery would have to come directly from Gabriela--not second-hand through the psychologists.

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