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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Oxnard Woman Charged in Death of Boy in Her Care

Courts: Caretaker brought 14-month-old child to hospital, where he died. Police also want to question her boyfriend, who has disappeared.

October 31, 2000|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The caretaker of a 14-month-old boy who died while in her custody was charged with murder and child neglect Monday, as prosecutors increased her bail to $1 million and her devastated relatives maintained her innocence.

Looking pale and tired, Teresa Rodriguez, 20, leaned against a screened retaining window in Ventura County Superior Court during the brief afternoon hearing, as prosecutors postponed her arraignment until next Monday.

"This is still an ongoing investigation, but at this point we are comfortable with the case," Deputy Dist. Atty. Cheryl Temple said.

Outside, after the hearing, Rodriguez's mother and grandmother tearfully denied the Oxnard resident could have been responsible for the death of Ion David Demetri Robledo.

"She would not do something like this," said Rodriguez's mother, Christina, 38, of Port Hueneme. "My child would never put him in any danger."

Prosecutors and detectives on the case disagree.

Although neither detectives nor prosecutors are saying much about how Demetri died, they have said there is strong evidence to convict Rodriguez.

They also are questioning others in connection with the boy's death.

Rodriguez was first questioned by Oxnard police detectives immediately after she took the boy to St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard the night of Oct. 22 because he was ill. Once at the hospital, the boy stopped breathing.

Rodriguez, who was nine months pregnant, was then rushed to Ventura County Medical Center, where she gave birth to a boy.

A coroner's report said only that Demetri's death was considered suspicious and that the boy appeared to have suffered serious physical abuse. A complete autopsy report will not be available until toxicology tests are finished in four to six weeks.

Police questioned Rodriguez before arresting her Oct. 25 on suspicion of child endangerment resulting in death. Oxnard detectives are still searching for Rodriguez's boyfriend, Patrick Santanillo, 31, with whom she was living at the time of Demetri's death.

Santanillo, who has his 3-year-old daughter with Rodriguez with him, has not been seen or heard from in 10 days.

Rodriguez had cared for Demetri for about six weeks before the boy died, said Christina Rodriguez, her mother.

"That baby was sick when she got him," Christina Rodriguez said. "He would never smile. He was 14 months old, but he looked closer to nine months."

The child's mother, Yvette Robledo, a close friend of Teresa Rodriguez, was unable to care for the child. Robledo asked Rodriguez, who was nearly eight months pregnant, unemployed and on welfare, to watch Demetri, and she agreed, Christina Rodriguez said.

"They used to party together," Christina Rodriguez said. "She did tell me that Yvette was supposed to pick up the baby, but she never did."

While Rodriguez remained in Ventura County Jail and her 8-day-old son, Patrick, was in the custody of the county's children's protective services department, her friends and family told of how she was trying to emerge from a life of drugs, guns and broken families.

Christina Rodriguez said her daughter had kicked a heroin habit at 17 and spent recent months volunteering at an Oxnard College day-care program. While pregnant with her daughter, Rodriguez lived for a few months at Tenderlife Maternity Home in Ventura.

While there, away from the drugs and violence that marked much of her Oxnard neighborhood, she began to flourish, a friend said.

"Teresa did great here, I do know that," said Terri Hazen, executive director of the home for single mothers. "She was going to break this cycle."

Hazen said Rodriguez went to parenting classes, helped clean the group home, made dinners and was a model resident. She left to give birth to Patricia, and didn't return, although she could have stayed another three months.

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