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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Mother Sentenced to 11 Years in Girl's Death

Courts: Gabriela Hernandez failed to stop her husband from fatally beating their 2-year-old. The Oxnard woman has been in jail since 1996.

April 24, 2001|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying he was amazed by the horror 2-year-old Joselin Hernandez suffered in her short life, a Ventura County judge sentenced her mother to 11 years in state prison Monday.

Gabriela Hernandez wept after the judge detailed her daughter's abuse and told the 23-year-old he could not understand why she failed to stop her husband from beating the toddler to death.

"It brings you to tears," Superior Court Judge Edward F. Brodie told the attorneys. "Her daughter had absolutely no one left to turn to. [Hernandez] was the only person in the whole world that could have saved that baby's life."

Joselin died in June 1996 after being hit repeatedly in the stomach, severing her intestine. She also had burns, bruises, bite marks and broken bones at the time of her death. Nearly two years earlier, Joselin had been hospitalized for fractured ribs, burns and broken legs. Social workers took her from the Hernandezes' Oxnard home but returned the child three months before her death.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Dee Corona said she believed Hernandez deserved the maximum 11-year sentence for her part in Joselin's death, because she did nothing to prevent the abuse.

"She can still make a life for herself, but she is paying for the horrors her child endured," Corona said outside the courtroom.

Because Hernandez has already been in custody for about five years, she will probably be released before she turns 30.

Defense attorney Kay Duffy argued for the minimum sentence of three years and said she was disappointed by the judge's decision. Hernandez was also a victim, suffering tremendously because of her daughter's death, Duffy said. But she added that her client has made the best of her time in prison and will keep doing so.

"She will use the time to continue to grow and mature and learn," she said. "Gabriela will come out a stronger woman."

Hernandez was originally convicted of second-degree murder and fatal abuse of a child and sentenced to prison for 15 years to life. Her husband, Rogelio, was convicted of first-degree murder, torture and multiple counts of child abuse and was sentenced to 41 years to life.

The 2nd Appellate District Court overturned Gabriela Hernandez's 1998 conviction, saying that the Ventura County Superior Court judge in that trial should have allowed expert testimony on her being a battered wife. On the day her new murder trial was set to begin in March, Hernandez pleaded guilty to lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter and felony child abuse.

On Monday, she also received a four-year sentence for a child-abuse charge, which she will serve at the same time as the manslaughter sentence.

During the sentencing hearing, Hernandez expressed her sorrow for her daughter's death and said she wants to help other battered women when she is released.

"There are so many things I wish I could take back," she said. "Now I feel I am getting a second chance. I know now the parenting skills I lacked while rising my little Joselin."

Hernandez also said she initially was in denial about the seriousness of the abuse, but now realizes that her husband controlled her and filled both her and her daughter with fear. "I know the abuse my child and I experienced was not normal," she said.

Hernandez's father, Miguel Nieto, drove from Las Vegas for the hearing. He said he looks forward to the day his daughter is released.

Surrounded by friends and other family members, Nieto added that he thought the sentence was unfair. "If she owes something, she has already paid," he said outside the courtroom Monday. "She couldn't do anything to stop Rogelio. He threatened her."

The psychological reports presented to the court showed that Hernandez had characteristics of battered-woman syndrome and was "overwhelmed, impaired and unable to act logically," Duffy said.

Judge Brodie said he understood that Hernandez had been abused and threatened by her husband, but said she still had a duty to act on Joselin's behalf.

He noted that Hernandez made up excuses to police about her daughter's injuries, attempted to hide them and allowed the horror and terror to continue.

"It's almost beyond comprehension that the child would be allowed to suffer in such a degree," Brodie said. "I just can't believe that anyone with any compassion would have allowed that scenario."

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