A Santa Ana woman on Tuesday recanted her statements to police that incriminated a live-in boyfriend in the death of her 21-month-old daughter.
The testimony by Maria Delgado came as a murder trial began for Celerino A. Ochoa, 19, a Santa Ana day laborer charged with causing the head injuries that killed toddler Carina Ramirez in their home last Oct. 14.
The defense lawyer suggested that the injuries might have come from a fall and accused police of coercing the mother into backing their hunch that the boyfriend was responsible.
Based on the mother's first statements to police, authorities allege that Ochoa regularly struck the child and slammed her against a wall shortly before the girl collapsed in the living room. She never regained consciousness.
Delgado told authorities that Ochoa had said he struck the child because he did not like the girl.
But on Tuesday, Delgado testified in Orange County Superior Court that she made up accusations of abuses by Ochoa in order to satisfy aggressive police investigators.
"I had to make up something because I wanted to go home," Delgado said in Spanish through a court interpreter.
The prosecutor said the woman, testifying as a hostile prosecution witness, changed her story because Ochoa, whom she met a few months before the incident, had threatened her.
Deputy Dist. Atty. David Brent told jurors that Delgado saw Carina collapse shortly after hearing a thump on the wall in the bedroom where Ochoa had been with the child. The child died the next morning of blunt-force trauma to the head, Brent said.
Brent confronted Delgado with her statements that Ochoa used to grab the girl by the hair and hit her head against the wall. The prosecutor said Delgado told police she went into the bedroom after hearing one such thump on the wall.
She told police the child was crying, but said Ochoa denied that anything happened, according to a transcript of the interview cited by Brent.
On the witness stand, Delgado denied that the child was crying and said Ochoa told her he dropped a stereo.
She also disavowed her earlier statements that Ochoa on several occasions had banged the child's head on the wall, saying she made that up because the police detective told her no one would believe Ochoa was innocent.
Ochoa's defense lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Deborah Barnum, accused Santa Ana police investigators of pressuring Delgado to incriminate Ochoa.
Barnum told jurors that family members said Ochoa was good to Carina and the girl's 4-year-old brother. Barnum said police rushed prematurely to build a case against Ochoa.