UPDATE: Trial for woman accused of murdering her daughter ends in mistrial, again
The second trial for a woman accused of murdering her infant daughter in 2005 has once again ended in a mistrial Dec. 20 after jurors failed to unanimously agree on a verdict.
The trial, which began Dec. 16, concluded at around 1 p.m. Dec. 20. After a little more than four hours deliberating, the jury reported to Judge Burke McCahill that they felt they would not be able to reach a unanimous verdict.
McCahill issued an Allen Charge, which encourages the jury to continue deliberating until a verdict is reached.
Shortly after 6 p.m., the jury announced that a verdict still could not be reached.
"Based on the instructions you gave us, we feel we cannot unanimously agree with the charges," the forewoman told Judge Burke McCahill.
The mistrial is the second in the case of a Sterling woman, Vanesa Patricio Cruz, 31, who is accused of beating her 20-month-old daughter to death nearly eight years ago.
The saga began Aug. 13, 2005, when Jocelin Guttierez collapsed in the parking lot of Santee Inc., a trucking company. Jalacio De La Cruz, Cruz's boyfriend and now common-law husband, was changing the oil to his car while Cruz and Jocelin sat nearby. The family rushed to a South Riding rescue center, and the baby was taken to Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, where she was later pronounced dead.
Though the case ran cold for years, it was reopened in 2011. Cruz was arrested in March 2012, after tearfully confession during a police interview to hitting her daughter with a remote control.
She was charged with second degree murder, felony homicide and child abuse and neglect.
The case was brought to trial in May and reached jury deliberations, but after a bailiff honored the jury's request for a ruler, McCahill was forced to grant the defense's motion for a mistrial. All items used in deliberation must first be vetted by the court.
The prosecution, composed of Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Nicole Wittmann and Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Jason Faw, argue that Cruz, then an overwhelmed and young mother, hit her crying daughter with a remote control five times. The blows caused bruising and a brain injury, causing her to pass out and die hours later.
For the second trial, the prosecution relied on the same expert witnesses, including medical examiner Constance DiAngelo and forensic neuropathologist Bennet Omalu, who consulted on the autopsy.
While public defenders Kelly King and Daniel Griffith maintained the same account of events as the first trial -that Jocelin fell and hit her head, possibly from choking on food- they offered two new expert witnesses.
Zhongxue Hua, a forensic pathologist from New York, testified that not only could the bruises have been caused by a fall, but that the brain trauma could have been the result of a chronic undiagnosed condition.
Hua noted other abnormalities, including “down-like” facial features and a small height and weight, in between the fifth and 10th percentiles, but a head in the 50th percentile.
“That was a sick baby,” Hua said. “Do not claim that was a healthy baby.”
The defense also brought in Allen Hirsch, an expert on confessions and interrogations. Though he was not allowed to testify whether he thought Cruz uttered a false confession, he did not that the “read technique” interrogation method used on her was “particularly aggressive.”
During closing, Griffith noted the conflicting testimonies from the medical experts equates to reasonable doubt in and of itself.
“I'm glad the prosecution is admitting their solution is the simplest answer,” Griffith said. “Sometimes, the answer just isn't there, no matter how we ask or how often we ask or how long we wait in between asking.”
Wittman, during her closing statements, urged jurors to look closely at the evidence.
“The devil is in the details,” she said.
Though jurors on the first trial were split 10-2 at the time of the mistrial, one juror told the Loudoun Times-Mirror that it was closer this time, which the jury split 7-5 on the second degree murder charge, 8-4 on the felony homicide charge and 11-1 on the abuse charge, all in favor of the prosecution.
The defense has indicated that after two trials, especially one ending deadlocked, they will motion for a dismissal.
Wittmann stated the prosecution will pursue a third trial.
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