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Plea deal in 2-year-old girl's beating death criticized

Friends and family decry deal that sends father to prison for 15 years to life and mother to prison for six years.

September 04, 2013|By Garrett Therolf
  • This photo of Vyctorya Sandoval was taken shortly before her reunification with her parents in September 2010. Her father pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in her beating; her mother pleaded no contest to child abuse.
This photo of Vyctorya Sandoval was taken shortly before her reunification… (Family photo )

A plea deal with a 2-year-old Pomona girl's parents who were charged with her abuse and murder is being criticized by the child's extended family members, friends and former foster parents.

Vyctorya Sandoval was killed months after a Los Angeles County children's court commissioner decided to remove her from her foster parents and reunite the girl with her family despite warnings and complaints from social workers.

Under the terms of the plea deal finalized last week, the father, Joseph Sandoval, agreed to plead no contest to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. The mother pleaded no contest to child abuse and was sentenced to six years in prison.

"We don't believe for one moment that our sweet girl's memory got the justice she so deserved, but no amount of punishment for those responsible for her death could ever bring her back," said Elise Esparza, a family friend.

In a prepared statement, Los Angeles County district attorney's spokeswoman Shiara Dávila-Morales said prosecutors' goal "in this tragic case was to convict and aggressively pursue a just sentence for the parent who physically beat the child to death."

"We considered it equally important to convict the child's mother who failed to protect her child from a dangerous environment," Dávila-Morales said.

In the months leading up to Vyctorya's 2011 death, the child welfare system received repeated warnings that her parents presented an ongoing threat.

Linda Kontis, co-founder of a foster family agency that contracted with the county to provide care to the girl, complained in writing to the child court's presiding judge that the court system hadn't properly considered the risks of returning the toddler, known as Tori, to her long-troubled parents.

According to Kontis' letter, the court commissioner who approved the reunification, Marilyn Mackel, "dominated her courtroom with intimidation and anger, to the point that the attorneys present barely spoke above a whisper with simple answers," Kontis wrote.

The commissioner also appeared distracted, Kontis' letter claimed, when one of Tori's siblings spoke and did not acknowledge "reams of concerns and pages of documentation." Mackel, now retired, has declined to comment on the case.

Months after the letter was written, Tori was dead. Healing bruises covered her body, according to court documents. A rib was fractured. Blood tests suggested that she died thirsty and hungry.

Her grandmother, Virginia Magana, said she was angry that the parents were not sentenced to longer prison terms.

Tori "was tortured and suffered slowly until her body and soul just couldn't take it anymore," she said. "Her siblings suffered from her death. They were devastated just as I was."

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