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Mother Charged With Murdering Infant Daughter in Her Apartment : Crime: The prosecutor says Rocio Huerta Cazares carried out the killing, then dumped the body and tried to make it look like a kidnaping. Her husband is charged as an accessory.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The mother of a 3-month old girl with Down’s syndrome, charged Thursday with fracturing the baby’s skull and dumping the body, might have been depressed about the girl’s illness and about the family’s financial trouble, the prosecutor said.

Rocio Huerta Cazares, 23, appeared in Orange County Municipal Court in Santa Ana, where the murder charge was filed Thursday. At the same time, her common-law husband, Oscar Aguilar Lezama, also 23, was charged with felony child endangerment and as an accessory to the Sunday night killing.

The couple’s formal arraignment was postponed until June 6, but Deputy Dist. Atty. Lewis Rosenblum said the evidence indicates that Cazares directed and carried out the slaying inside the couple’s apartment in Orange. The prosecutor said both later lied to police, saying the child had been kidnaped.

“Why anyone would kill an infant like that is beyond me,” Rosenblum told reporters Thursday outside the courtroom.

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The prosecutor said the child endangerment count was filed against Lezama because authorities believe the infant remained alive a short time after suffering massive head injuries, but the father allegedly failed to seek medical attention for the baby.

“The child may have been alive when he (Lezama) first saw it,” Rosenblum told reporters. “There was an obligation for the welfare of the child to get medical attention, which he failed to do.”

Rosenblum said Lezama helped to cover the crime by corroborating an explanation that the child, identified in court documents as Yeni, had been snatched from her mother’s arms about 9:15 p.m. Sunday by two masked kidnapers.

The couple said they learned of the child’s death about 2 a.m. Monday when police found the infant wrapped in a pink baby blanket, dumped behind a salon in the 1000 block of North Tustin Street.

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Cazares, interviewed Wednesday in the Orange County Women’s Jail, said she remembered that the kidnapers sneaked up behind her in the 1800 block of Collins Avenue, and at knifepoint one grabbed her from behind. She said the child might have been hit before being thrown in the back of a four-door sedan.

When the vehicle sped away, the woman said she ran into the street for help.

“I’m here to prove that it didn’t happen that way,” Rosenblum said Thursday outside the courtroom. “She’s lied so many times, it’s hard to assess her credibility. This is not accidental. I can’t think of any way this can happen to a child.

“She (Cazares) was the one telling (Lezama) what to say and what not to say.”

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The prosecutor said authorities believe that the baby was fatally wounded in the apartment when the couple and their other daughter, 2-year-old Isabel, were there. At the time, the prosecutor said, the six other non-family members who share the apartment were out at a party.

Rosenblum said it is not known whether Lezama actually witnessed the killing. He also said it would be difficult to determine whether a weapon was used.

“It’s not like (the injuries were caused by) the butt of a rifle,” Rosenblum said. “The child’s head could have been smashed against the wall or on the toilet.”

He said, however, that it is believed the child died inside the apartment between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Sunday, at least 45 minutes before Cazares said the child had been kidnaped.

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Rosenblum said it is believed that Cazares walked from her apartment with the dead child and dumped the body behind the beauty salon and then ran into the street attempting to flag down police.

Court documents state the child, who was born on Valentine’s Day, was found with the right eye nearly swollen shut, bruising on the forehead and discoloration around the nose.

It was determined later that the infant suffered fractures to the skull, court documents state.

According to witness statements contained in the case file, those living with the family had never seen the parents harm either of the children. Rosenblum said there is no record of child abuse involving the family, only a conviction last year against Lezama for driving under the influence, for which he is serving three years’ probation.

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However, witnesses said Cazares had been depressed since the child’s February birth.

Cazares also said Wednesday that Sunday had been a particularly troubling day, since earlier smugglers had demanded $600 from her to bring her older brothers to the United States from Mexico. But because she and her husband had been unemployed for some time, she could not make the payment.

Rosenblum speculated that statements about the mother’s depression over the family’s financial position and the child’s physical condition could bring a possible defense that the mother was suffering from a form of postpartum depression.

“The mother had been depressed and neither one was working,” Rosenblum said. “A lot more work needs to be done.”

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