Sterling woman pleads guilty to voluntary manslaughter in daughter’s death
After nearly nine years and two mistrials, the case of a woman accused of beating her daughter to death has finally reached a resolution.
Vanesa Patricio Cruz, 32, pleaded no contest to amended charge of voluntary manslaughter in the 2005 death of her 20-month-old daughter Jocelin.
After collapsing at the Santee Trucking parking lot in South Riding, Jocelin was taken by South Riding rescue squad members to Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, where she died. The investigation into her death ran cold until 2011, when Detective Wayne Promisel reopened the case. In 2012, Cruz was taken to the police station for questioning, and she tearfully confessed to hitting her daughter in the head with a remote control, which ultimately led to her death.
Cruz was arrested and charged with second degree murder, felony homicide and felony child abuse and neglect.
The crux of the Commonwealth Attorney's Office case was in both the confession and an autopsy report that indicated bruising on the baby's brain. Additionally, medical reports indicated Jocelin had suffered from prior rib fractures.
But the defense argued that the confession and the techniques used to acquire it were questionable and that the medical evidence did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the child was abused. Rather, they said, Jocelin could have fallen and hit her head on the pavement, causing the bruising and leading to her death.
The case was brought to trial in May of last year and reached jury deliberations, but after a bailiff honored the jury's request for a ruler, Judge Burke 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 second trial, held in December, once again reached jury deliberations but after four hours of deliberating, the jury said they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
Though a third trial was scheduled for March, both sets of attorneys in the case agreed to amend the murder charge to voluntary manslaughter. The felony child abuse and felony homicide charges will not be prosecuted by the defense.
The agreement in part comes from the fact that at the time of each mistrial, the juries were hung.
“We feel we've put forth our best case now twice,” Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Nicole Wittmann, noting that they have no new evidence or experts. “I don't have confidence that if we tried this case a third time, we'd come out with different results.”
Additionally, Wittmann estimated that at this point, the cost of the case was in the range of $40,000.
“There comes a time when you need to look at justice as a whole,” Wittmann said.
Cruz pleaded no contest to the amended charge, meaning she neither admits nor disputes the charge. While it is not a guilty plea, it offers the same immediate results as a guilty plea.
The sentence guidelines range from 2 years and one month to 5 years. The recommended sentence has not been set yet from the parole board. The ultimate sentence is at the discretion of the judge.
Cruz has already spent one year and ten months in jail.
Additionally, Cruz, who is living in the country illegally, may face deportation upon the completion of her sentence.
The court has scheduling sentencing in the case for May 5 at 9 a.m.