Judge Sentences La Quinta Mother to Life for Killing her Daughter.
INDIO (CNS) - A judge today handed down a life prison sentence for a La Quinta woman who tortured and fatally beat her 3-year-old daughter, saying it was probably ``the worst crime'' he'd seen in his 17 years on the bench.
``I don't know how one human being can do that to another,'' Riverside County Superior Court Judge James S. Hawkins said before ordering Yolanda Guadalupe Pena to spend her life behind bars, with the possibility of parole some day.
The 43-year-old defendant was convicted in June of first-degree murder, torture, assaulting a child causing great bodily injury and inflicting injury on a child. The latter count related to another daughter who was 12 at the time.
The 3-year-old, Delilah Urrutia, suffered head trauma, second-degree burns on her face, neck, chest, back and arms, cuts and bruises, and had lost parts of three fingers, according to police and prosecutors.
Both of Pena's older daughters spoke at the sentencing.``Mom, you have changed my life in a big way. I want to tell you you're still my mother ... I hope and pray to God we can help you,'' the daughter who was abused said.
The defendant's other daughter said it hurt that her own mother forced her to hurt her sisters.
``You made me question myself ... I love you because you're still my mother. (But) you not only took away my little sister, you took away my mom. I forgive you, but I will never forget,'' she said.
Pena looked away while her daughters -- one of whom cried -- spoke in court.
Before Pena was sentenced, defense attorney Thomas Cavanaugh disputed a probation report claim that his client lacked remorse. The defendant, at the scene of her daughter death, ``is clearly hurt, she's crying hysterically, she says something along the lines of `God, forgive me,''' he said.
Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria countered that Delilah was abused and tortured for the six months leading up to her death in a ``house of horror'' and ``treated worse than most people treat their dogs.'' The toddler was dead when authorities arrived at the family's home in the 44000 block of Vista Dunes Lane about 10:15 p.m. on June 25, 2009. She died of blunt force trauma to the head, according to the coroner's office.
Pena, who was arrested five days later, told one of her two older daughters to pour hot water on Delilah for misbehavior while the defendant was at work, causing burns over more than 30 percent of the child's body, according to DiMaria. When she got home, Delilah looked at her -- which was not allowed -- ``and that set her off,'' the prosecutor said during the trial.
``The defendant proceeded at that point to beat that little girl's brains out. She threw her against the wall, used a high-heeled shoe. ... (Pena's older daughters) said the defendant continued to hit Delilah in the head at least 20 times,'' DiMaria said.
Pena then stuffed a stocking in Delilah's mouth, put a stocking over her head, bound her wrists and ankles and put her in a plastic bin ``like trash,'' the prosecutor said. Pena put the bin in a closet and left home with her older daughter to visit her best friend. They found Delilah dead later that night, DiMaria said.
She said the victim was the product of an affair Pena had while married. Her then-12-year-old daughter -- who Pena also abused -- told her father about it, leading to the breakup of the marriage.
DiMaria said Delilah and her older sister would sometimes sit in the bathtub while hot and could water was poured over them. Other times, Delilah was tied up in the plastic bin and put in a closet, with her mouth duct-taped, or tied up in the bathtub for days at a time, DiMaria said.
Pena told the daughter who hadn't been abused that she would be punished, too, unless she reported her sisters' misdeeds to the defendant, the prosecutor said.
Cavanaugh conceded there was abuse in the household, but told jurors it was likely the tot ``hit her head on the floor more than once'' while ``fleeing from her sister'' and asked them to consider a lesser charge of manslaughter.
The defense attorney said Pena did not get medical help for Delilah, and there was no excuse for that. But ``those head injuries were caused before Ms. Pena got home.''