In the final day of testimony Tuesday, jurors in the murder trial of Rogelio and Gabriela Hernandez heard witnesses describe the couple as young and naive parents worried about the health of their sickly child.
The testimony from friends and relatives of the couple was meant to bolster the defense's contention that they were loving parents toward their daughter, 2-year-old Joselin, but that they were ignorant about how to treat the girl's stomach problems.
The toddler died June 22, 1996, of blunt force injuries to her abdomen, possibly caused by someone kicking or punching her.
During the six weeks of testimony, prosecutors detailed allegations that 20-year-old Rogelio Hernandez beat and abused his little girl, ultimately causing her death, and that 19-year-old Gabriela allowed the abuse to happen.
Defense attorneys, however, have argued in part that the child died because of the couple's ignorance and reliance on nontraditional forms of medicine.
Her parents are charged with murder and multiple counts of child abuse in connection with their daughter's death. They also face charges for injuries Joselin suffered as an infant in 1994.
On Tuesday, a friend of Rogelio's, two of his aunts, his stepmother and another relative all testified that Rogelio was a loving and caring father. None of the witnesses said they ever saw any injuries on Joselin.
Efraim Espinoza, who worked as a disc jockey with Rogelio for a short time, said Rogelio expressed concern about young Joselin's health shortly before the girl's death.
Another witness, Maria De La Cruz, testified that the couple came to her Fillmore home with Joselin and Rogelio's stepmother. The toddler was ill with stomach problems, De La Cruz said.
"She was awake, her eyes were open and she looked peaked," she testified. "She was really sick and she was walking slowly."
De La Cruz told the couple how she treated her own children by rubbing their bellies with oil and then feeding them a drink of chocolate and lard. She also told them about a concoction called atole, a mixture of syrup and rice flour given when a child loses her appetite, according to her testimony.
Before she left the stand, De La Cruz, whose sister-in-law is Rogelio's stepmother, blurted out: "All I know is they're innocent."
Later in the day, Rogelio's stepmother, Theresa De La Cruz, testified that Maria De La Cruz had rubbed Joselin's belly lightly during the visit in question.
De La Cruz was the last of just a handful of defense witnesses called to testify.
Prosecutors called more than 47 witnesses during the trial.
After the defense rested, Deputy Dist. Atty. Dee Corona asked to introduce letters sent back and forth between Rogelio and Gabriela immediately after they were arrested in November 1996.
Corona wanted to introduce the letters to undermine a contention by Gabriela's attorney, who said she was a battered woman unable to protect herself or her child from Rogelio's alleged attacks. The letters, Corona said, showed that Gabriela was not afraid of her husband.
She ended one of the letters with "Gabi and Roy Forever," and said in another, "We'll get out of this one."
Superior Court Judge James P. Cloninger said he would decide this morning whether he would allow the letters to be shown to the jury. Closing arguments are scheduled for Friday.