A 22-year-old Lancaster man was arrested on suspicion of murder Thursday in the shaking death nearly 10 months ago of his girlfriend's infant daughter, the seventh and last in a string of Antelope Valley child abuse homicides from mid-1991 to mid-1992.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office Thursday also charged Pete Alvarez with murder and felony child abuse in the July 12, 1992, death of 6-month-old Karanina Hernandez. Alvarez remained in custody in lieu of $1-million bail, authorities said.
"There is no doubt the baby was shaken to death," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Kelly Cromer, who filed the case. "And within the window of time when this would have had to occur, he was the person who was with the child."
Although authorities had long considered Alvarez a suspect in the death, he was not arrested or charged in the intervening months as sheriff's homicide detectives pressed their investigation and contacted more people. "It was apparent we needed a few more details," Cromer said.
The prosecutor gave no motive in the case, other than speculating Alvarez might have been upset because he had been fined in court for a traffic citation earlier on July 10, 1992, before returning to the couple's Lancaster apartment. The child was stricken there while in his care that day, Cromer said.
Cromer said the child's mother was at work that day and the child had been in the care of a baby-sitter's mother and grandmother before they returned her to Alvarez about noon. A short time later, Alvarez said the child began having difficulty breathing and paramedics were summoned. The child died two days later.
The mother, Kathleen Kitchen, now 19, was ruled out as a suspect because she had been at work since early in the morning. And the baby-sitter's mother and grandmother also were ruled out, because they were together and mostly in public places with the child that morning, Cromer said.
The coroner's office concluded the child's death was a homicide due to shaken-infant syndrome, which causes brain hemorrhaging. Cromer said the couple, who had met while working at a fast-food outlet months earlier, married after the child's death.
Criminal charges previously had been filed in all six of the prior Antelope Valley child deaths, with some defendants already sentenced and other cases still pending. Parents or guardians in five of those six cases were methamphetamine drug users, though not in Alvarez's case, Cromer said.