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Trial Begins for Man in Fatal Beating of Ex-Girlfriend's Son

September 13, 2002|JEAN GUCCIONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Pacoima man accused of beating a 4-year-old boy to death wept quietly Thursday in a Van Nuys courtroom as his former girlfriend testified about trying to revive her dying son.

Jose Cruz, 25, is accused of striking Richard Mendez hundreds of times with his hands, belts and two gold-tasseled curtain cords on May 24, 2001, causing the fatal injuries.

The boy's mother, Yvonne Guangorena, 21, testified that Cruz, who was caring for Richard, left her a message at work, saying he had hit the boy because the child had soiled his pants.

When she called back, Guangorena said, she asked Cruz about her son's condition.

"He told me it looked like somebody had jumped" the boy, she testified.

Cruz struck the boy on his buttocks, thighs and legs and bit him at least twice, Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrea Thompson told jurors in her opening statement.

No one sought medical help for the boy until it was too late, Thompson said.

Richard died hours after the beating in his mother's North Hollywood apartment.

Cruz is charged with assault on a child causing death, murder and torture. He faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

His attorney, Geoffrey Crowther, said Cruz admitted beating the boy but had not intended to kill Richard. Crowther said he would ask the jury of seven men and five women to find Cruz guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

With immediate medical treatment, none of Richard's injuries would have been fatal, Crowther said. He said the family had delayed seeking help for fear the boy would be taken from his home by county child welfare workers.

Guangorena testified that she and Cruz had dated for about two years and had lived together for nine months, although he had moved out a few weeks before the beating.

Her son called Cruz "Daddy," she said.

On the day Richard died, Guangorena said, she and Cruz took him to a doctor's appointment, then to visit the school where he was due to begin pre-kindergarten a week later. The three had breakfast at Denny's, then Cruz drove Guangorena to work in Burbank about 11 a.m.

As Cruz drove back to Guangorena's apartment, Richard soiled his pants and Cruz hit him twice in the head, Thompson said in her opening statement.

Later, at the apartment, Thompson said, the boy was subjected to a beating that lasted between 30 minutes and an hour.

Guangorena testified that, after she got Cruz's message about 1:30 p.m., she called him to protest his striking her son. She said Cruz arrived about 2 p.m. with Richard to pick her up from work.

Seeing a gash near the boy's right eye, she said, she asked Cruz to drive to a hospital, but he refused.

"Jose said [Richard] was OK, just tired," the mother testified.

When they arrived home, Guangorena said she bathed the boy and noticed extensive bruising on his buttocks and legs.

Thompson asked about her reaction to the injuries. She paused for a moment, wiping away tears, and said she then asked Cruz why he had beaten Richard.

"He said he was sorry for hurting him that way," she testified.

Guangorena said she and Cruz had argued for about 40 minutes as Richard lay on a living-room sofa. She said she then noticed her son was having trouble breathing and called 911.

Cruz called his own mother, Guangorena said, and left the apartment before paramedics arrived.

Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Glenn Ames testified Thursday that the boy was dead when he and paramedics got to the apartment about 3:30 p.m.

He said he notified police because of the severe bruising on the boy's body.

Los Angeles Police Det. Mike Coffey told jurors that when he entered the apartment, the severity of the dead boy's injuries was immediately apparent.

"The bruises were from head to toe on that child," he said.

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