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Kidnaper of Infant Gets 8-Year Sentence : Crime: On eve of trial, Maria Luisa Martinez of Delano pleads guilty to taking the 4-month-old Santa Ana girl from a South Coast Plaza store in April.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Central Valley woman was sentenced to eight years in prison Thursday after admitting she snatched a Santa Ana infant from a shopping mall in April.

On the eve of her trial on kidnaping charges, Maria Luisa Martinez, 37, of Delano, pleaded guilty to face up to her deed, her lawyer said.

“She wanted to accept responsibility for what she had done. It was bothering her conscience,” said Deputy Public Defender Marion Wheeler. “She felt bad about how the parents felt.”

Superior Court Judge Anthony Rackauckas cited Martinez’s lack of a criminal record in sparing her the maximum sentence of 11 years and eight months.

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The parents of Steffany Zamora, who was 4 months old at the time of the April 22 kidnaping, avoided the sentencing because they did not want to be near Martinez, said a lawyer representing them.

But in a written statement read in court by the lawyer, Mario and Beatriz Zamora said they were glad Martinez was being sent to prison.

“This is a very happy day for Mr. and Mrs. Zamora,” lawyer Christine K. Roberts said. Attempts to reach the Zamoras for comments were unsuccessful.

In April, Martinez, who had met the family a short time earlier, and Steffany’s aunt took the infant to have her picture taken at a Sear’s department store at South Coast Plaza. Martinez disappeared with the girl when the aunt went to make a telephone call. The family hunted desperately, distributing flyers and getting widespread media attention. An anonymous tip led police to Martinez a week later, and the child was found unharmed.

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Wheeler said he did not know Martinez’s motive for kidnaping the girl. He said defense investigators could not confirm Martinez’s claim that her own baby had died in childbirth in Mexico last fall--eliminating a possible defense that she was suffering post-birth depression.

“Her situation is almost pathetic,” Wheeler said. “She’s probably one of the saddest situations I’ve seen.”


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