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Parents Charged With Murder in Girl's Death

The 2-year-old was unconscious overnight before they sought help, authorities say. The pair also face torture and child-abuse counts.

November 20, 2002|Nancy Wride | Times Staff Writer

The parents of a 2-year-old girl who was kicked and punched until she was immobile and eventually died were charged Tuesday in Long Beach with murder, torture and child abuse.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Rich Goul said Maria Mendoza was declared dead Thursday at a Huntington Beach hospital, where paramedics had taken the unconscious girl after her Tijuana-bound parents noticed that she wasn't breathing and pulled over to call 911.

Preliminary autopsy results indicate that Maria suffered a split small intestine, and that the weapon was a fist and shod feet, authorities said.

Raul Mendoza, 26, and Martha Lopez, 23, who also have a 3-year-old son and a baby due any day, were charged Tuesday in a criminal complaint that outlines the case and three counts against them.

Both were charged with one count of premeditated murder, one count of assault on a child causing death and one count of torture. They face maximum sentences of 32 years to life in prison if convicted.

However, prosecutors are examining the possibility of adding an as-yet unspecified special circumstance to the murder charge, which would make it a capital case with a maximum penalty of life in prison without possibility of parole, or death.

"A lot depends on the medical reports and further investigation," said Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.

Mendoza and Lopez appeared separately in Long Beach Superior Court on Tuesday, where Judge Patrick T. Madden ordered that they be held without bail pending arraignment Dec. 4.

Throughout the hearings, Mendoza closed his eyes in a pained expression and shook his head. Lopez, who was described by her public defender as "overdue," stared at the judge.

Goul said Mendoza is an oil driller, and the family moved to Long Beach four months ago from El Paso.

According to Goul, an Orange County coroner's autopsy revealed numerous injuries in various states of healing, indicating a pattern over time of child abuse. Mendoza is suspected of most of the kicking and blows, but "the mother is also responsible for some of the injuries," Goul said.

"There were signs of multiple, long-standing scars and signs of physical trauma ... brutal assaults," said Goul, who will prosecute the case.

On Wednesday evening, Maria was hurt severely enough to be rendered "immobile from about 10 o'clock thereon into the morning of the 14th," Goul said. "I can say blows were inflicted in Long Beach over a period starting Nov. 13 into the morning of Nov. 14th."

The parents were driving to Tijuana on Thursday when, they said, they saw that Maria was not breathing. They were in Huntington Beach when they stopped to call paramedics.

The couple's 3-year-old son did not show signs of injury, Goul said.

He is in the protective custody of the county Department of Children's Services and eventually will be placed in foster care, as will their expected child.

*

Times staff writer Louis Sahagun contributed to this report.

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