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The Question Remains: Who Killed Samantha?

O.C. activists are incensed by the pace of justice in the case of an infant girl who died in March 2002. The coroner ruled her death a homicide.

May 01, 2003|Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writer

The coroner concluded that 1-year-old Samantha Rose Gutierrez was starved and neglected. There were bruises on her scalp and fluid on her brain caused by swelling. There were repeated fractures to her right elbow.

Somebody, the coroner said, killed Samantha. Anaheim police have investigated her parents in connection with her death. But more than a year after she died, no arrests have been made.

Exasperated by what they called the slow pace of justice, several Orange County community leaders gathered Wednesday to demand answers. They said they have asked the grand jury to investigate.

"Any child's death is a tragedy, especially when it is a homicide," said Lorri Galloway, executive director of Eli Home, a nonprofit child welfare agency in Anaheim whose workers tried to alert child welfare officials to Samantha's plight months before her death.

"We waited for someone to protect her," said Galloway, flanked by other activists at a news conference at an Anaheim restaurant.

"We waited for someone to take her away from the abusive environment. But the wait proved fatal for Samantha, and we are waiting still."

Anaheim police said that although they have completed their investigation and forwarded their findings to prosecutors, the case remains open.

"Unfortunately in life, things are not always black and white," Anaheim Police Sgt. Rick Martinez said, adding that there are conflicting medical opinions as to what caused Samantha's death.

The sheriff-coroner's office ruled it a homicide in August and cited "maternal neglect." Police now say that finding is being contradicted by doctors who examined Samantha prior to her death and a private pathologist hired by attorneys for Samantha's parents, who are fighting to regain custody of their other children.

Anaheim Police Chief Roger Baker told council members recently that conflicting medical findings have "raised concerns with the district attorney's office over the potential of criminal charges."

Samantha's parents, Luis Alfonso and Jacquelyn Starr Gutierrez, could not be reached for comment.

Samantha's body was found March 26, 2002, in a duplex on Harbor Boulevard that her parents shared with another couple, Luis and Dulce Soriano, and their children.

Dulce Soriano said in an interview days after Samantha's death that she approached Eli Home counselors at a parenting class because she believed the girl was being abused. She said police and social workers had been to the house several times in November and December of 2001, but nothing was done. Galloway said police and social workers visited the home again in January after she and other Eli Home workers called a county child-abuse hotline.

Anaheim police and the county Social Service Agency officials dispute Galloway's account of events. Martinez said police officers were at the Gutierrez home only once before March 26, and found no evidence of abuse. Michael Riley, head of the county's Children and Family Services Department, said his social workers too had been to the Gutierrez home only once, in January.

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