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Officer Tells of Child's Wounds

Oxnard lawman says he was told by the murder defendant's girlfriend that a rash led to the injuries. He says they were clear signs of abuse.

January 31, 2003|Tracy Wilson | Times Staff Writer

A slain boy's caregiver told Oxnard police the bloody wounds to the toddler's ears and mouth, and ligature bruises to his wrists and ankles, were not caused by abuse but by the child scratching at a rash, a police officer testified Thursday.

But Oxnard Officer Mark Barnes told jurors the injuries he observed on 14-month-old Demitri Robledo did not appear accidental.

Barnes first saw the boy's body on a gurney at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard after the child was pronounced dead Oct. 22, 2000. The thin toddler had visibly dark bruises ringing his ankles and wrists. The flesh on his ears and nose had been partially torn away, and his baby clothes were stained with blood.

Barnes said the wounds were clear signs of abuse.

"It was obvious to me this was some sort of torment crime," the officer said.

Barnes was called as a prosecution witness during the trial of Patrick Santillano, 33, who is charged with murder, torture, child abuse causing death and mayhem in connection with Demitri's death.

The toddler, who died from a blow to the head, lived with the defendant and his girlfriend, Teresa Rodriguez, for three months while his mother served time on drug charges.

Rodriguez, who has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and mayhem, told authorities Santillano had smacked the baby and denied him food. She said Santillano tied Demitri up to prevent him from scratching his wounds, and gagged the child to stifle his crying.

Santillano's attorney contends it was Rodriguez, not his client, who is responsible for the child's death.

Rodriguez is expected to testify today. According to Barnes, Rodriguez drove Demitri to St. John's on Oct. 22 after she noticed the child was having trouble breathing.

The officer, who responded to a call from hospital staff members, interviewed Rodriguez in a hospital anteroom. Barnes said she told him the child was born underweight and addicted to methadone, and was left in her care by a friend in late August.

Asked about the injuries, Rodriguez said Demitri came to her with scabies and rubbed his nose raw by picking at a wound that occurred weeks earlier when he had fallen.

Barnes testified that when he asked Rodriguez why she had not taken the boy to a doctor earlier, she had told him "she didn't have the paperwork."

At some point during their conversation, Dr. H. Allen Hooper, the treating emergency room physician, entered the room and told Rodriguez the boy was dead, Barnes said.

"She was upset," he said. "She was screaming."

In a later interview at the Oxnard police station, Rodriguez again attributed the wounds to Demitri's scabies. She never cited any abuse by Santillano.

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