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LOS ANGELES

Murder Trial of Aunt in Girl's Death Starts

September 18, 2002|JEAN GUCCIONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Arcelia Chavez carried her 4-year-old niece into the North Hollywood police station last year and declared that she had drowned, a Los Angeles police officer testified Tuesday.

Officer Lizette Makarenko said she was working the front desk at the station on Sept. 28, when Chavez walked in carrying a bundle in a pink blanket. "She said, 'Help me. She drowned,' " she testified.

But prosecutors allege that Chavez, 48, of North Hollywood, beat Maria Isabel Cervantes to death because she spit out food and later urinated in her pants.

Chavez, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and assaulting a child causing her death, faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

In her opening statement, Deputy Dist. Atty. Maureen Green said Chavez was in the dining room of her home feeding Maria Isabel a late afternoon meal when the child began to spit out the food and Chavez began hitting her.

"Arcelia Chavez was getting more and more angry," Green said.

Then the child wet her pants, and Chavez gave her a bath while delivering "karate-like chops to the child," the prosecutor said.

Each time she hit Maria Isabel, the girl would go underwater and Chavez would drag her up by her hair, Green said.

After Maria Isabel died, Chavez prepared a makeshift altar with a candle and dressed her in a white dress, placing a doll next to her, Green said.

The next morning, Chavez's daughter discovered her mother and the dead child in a bedroom and urged the older woman to call authorities.

Chavez brought the child, still in the white dress and wrapped in a pink towel, to the North Hollywood police station, Green said.

There, Makarenko said Chavez told her that she didn't call for help because she didn't have a phone.

Chavez also complained of constant headaches and said she wanted to die with the child, Makarenko testified. The officer testified that Chavez said she had never lost her temper like this but that she didn't elaborate on what she'd done when she lost her temper.

Chavez's attorney, Dennis G. Cohen, did not make an opening statement Tuesday. Testimony is set to continue today before Superior Court Judge Leland Harris.

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