Sterling woman sentenced to eight years in prison for toddler’s death
The nine-year saga of a dead Sterling girl has reached its conclusion, after the child's mother was sentenced to 10 years for her death.
Vanesa Patricio Cruz, 32, was sentenced to 10 years in jail, with two years suspended, for her role in the 2005 death of 20-month-old Jocelin Guitierrez. After two mistrials, Cruz pleaded no contest Jan. 16 to the amended charge of voluntary manslaughter.
A no contest plea means that Cruz neither admits nor disputes the charge. Though it is not a guilty plea, it offers the same immediate results as a guilty plea.
While the charge of voluntary manslaughter typically carries a maximum of five years and eight months, Judge Burke McCahill significantly deviated, citing the parent/child relationship and noting that parents are supposed to protect the child.
The case first began Aug. 13, 2005, when Cruz and her long-time boyfriend and now common-law husband Jalacio de la Cruz rushed Jocelin to a South Riding Safety Center after the toddler collapsed in the parking lot of Santee Trucking, where de la Cruz worked. The baby was taken to Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, where she was later pronounced dead.
The case was considered “cold,” but was reopened in 2011 by Detective Wayne Promisel. In 2012, Cruz was taken to the police station, where after more than an hour, she tearfully confessed to hitting her daughter in the head with a remote control.
Cruz was arrested and charged with second degree murder, felony homicide and felony child abuse and neglect.
The crux of the Commonwealth's 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. Cruz's public defenders 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.
After numerous pre-trial hearings, the matter finally made it to court in May last year. 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 by the jury in deliberation must first be vetted by the court.
The case again went to trial in December, featuring two new witnesses for the defense, including Zhongxue Hua, a forensic pathologist from New York who testified that the child may have had an undiagnosed condition.
After deliberating for four hours, the jury reported that they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict, once again forcing a mistrial.
Though a third trial was slated for March, both sets of attorneys agreed to amend the murder charge to voluntary manslaughter. The felony homicide and felony child abuse charges were not pursued.
Cruz has already spent more than two years in jail throughout the course of the two trials, meaning she will have six years left in prison. Additionally, because she is illegally living in the country, she faces deportation back to Mexico at the conclusion of her sentence.