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Pre-trial hearing modifies case of Sterling woman accused of killing daughter

Vanesa Cruz

An indictment against a Sterling woman charged with second-degree murder has been modified to include a longer time-span after a motion from the Commonwealth’s Attorney Jan. 29 was affirmed.

Vanesa Cruz, 30, is accused of killing her 20-month-old daughter, who died on Aug. 13, 2005. Although the medical examiner’s report indicated homicide from blunt force trauma, no arrest was made until after the Division of Crimes and Investigation reopened the case in May 2011. The sheriff’s office was unable to answer what caused the delay in the investigation.

“It was before my and Sheriff Chapman’s time,” said Liz Mills, Director of Media Relations and Communications for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office.

Cruz was arrested in March and confessed to hitting her daughter with a remote control in an effort to get her to stop crying, according to court documents. She was indicted with second-degree murder, felony homicide and child abuse and neglect from the incident.

However, further examination indicated the child suffered prior, chronic abuse that led to brain hemorrhaging and death. Commonwealth’s Attorneys Nicole Wittman and Jason Faw moved to expand the indictment to include Jan. 24 to Aug. 13, with the Jan. 24 date an approximation of Cruz’s arrival to Loudoun County from Mexico.

The defense team, composed of Kelly King and Daniel Griffith, objected the motion, stating that the prosecution had no basis to amend and that the case is now different then previously established.

“The nature and character is vastly different,” Griffith said to the court.

Judge Burke McCahill approved the motion. “I can’t preclude the Commonwealth from weaving a new theory to the case.”

After getting their first motion approved, the prosecution then moved to include rib fractures the infant suffered into the pool of evidence. An earlier hearing had previously disallowed the rib fractures. The prosecution argued that with the expanded time frame, the rib fractures are now in the “window of indictment” and should thus be reintroduced.

The defense opposed the reintroduction of evidence, saying that the fractures would be prejudicial to a jury and would unfairly establish a propensity to violence.

“It’s highly prejudicial and an unadjudicated bad act,” King said in court.

The defense also argued that if the rib fracture is pertinent to the child abuse charge Cruz also faces, then the charges should be severed to avoid influencing the jury on the murder charge.

After nearly 15 minutes of deliberation, McCahill upheld the commonwealth’s motion and allowed the rib fractures to be reintroduced, stating they can no longer be considered a prior bad act because they now fall within the new frame and also pertain to one of the charges.

“Rib fractures may not have caused the death; that’s not disputed,” McCahill said. “But it may have caused injury, and that’s a charge.”

The defense indicated they had more motions to file before the trial began.

Cruz is still being held at the Adult Detention Center without bond. Her trial is set to begin May 28.


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