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Father Hit Child With Spoon, Relative Testifies in Murder Trial

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The younger brother of accused murderer Gabriela Hernandez told a jury Wednesday that he saw his sister’s husband, Rogelio, angrily hit the couple’s daughter Joselin Hernandez in the face with a metal teaspoon during a trip to Mexico.

The little girl wouldn’t eat, Miguel Nieto Jr. testified. So Rogelio Hernandez hit her, he said.

“He hit her with the spoon,” the 14-year-old told the jury at his sister and brother-in-law’s murder trial. “She didn’t want to eat and he wanted her to eat.”

Miguel told jurors he saw his brother-in-law strike Joselin with the spoon more than once. “She looked like she wanted to cry, but she didn’t,” he said.

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The teen took the stand Wednesday afternoon, recalling for the prosecution a series of injuries and incidents he said he observed throughout Joselin’s brief childhood.

The toddler was fatally beaten in June 1996, about a month after her second birthday. Prosecutors say Rogelio Hernandez, now 20, abused Joselin and inflicted the deadly blows, and that Gabriela Hernandez, 19, failed to stop him.

Both are charged with murder and multiple counts of felony child abuse.

On Wednesday, Miguel testified that he once watched Rogelio Hernandez call to Joselin to leap into his arms from the side of a swimming pool.

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The father was standing in the shallow end of the pool, Miguel said, and when Joselin jumped in, Rogelio Hernandez took a step back and watched his daughter sink.

“He told her to jump and she jumped,” Miguel said. Joselin was under the water for several seconds before her father reached down and grabbed her.

Miguel previously told an investigator for the district attorney’s office that Rogelio Hernandez had laughed when Joselin jumped into the pool and sank.

On Wednesday, Miguel told the jury he could not remember whether his brother-in-law laughed or not. In short, quiet words, he also said he could not recall whether his niece was choking when Rogelio Hernandez pulled her to the surface.

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Miguel is one of several family members to be called to testify in the couple’s trial, now in its third week.

“How did Rogelio treat Joselin when you were around?” Deputy Dist. Atty. Dee Corona asked the teenager at one point.

“In what way?” he answered.

“Was he nice to her?” Corona asked.

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“Sometimes,” the boy answered.

“Was he mean to her?” Corona asked.

“Sometimes,” Miguel said.

The teenager recounted that he saw Joselin hurt on two other occasions--once when the toddler had a severe burn to her hand, and another time when her head was badly cut after allegedly falling from a milk crate she was standing on to play video games with her father in the family’s general store.

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Miguel and Gabriella Hernandez’s father, Miguel Nieto Sr., was also called to testify Wednesday. He and his deceased wife, Amor, cared for their granddaughter Joselin for more than a year after the child was initially taken away from her parents after sustaining broken ribs and legs and severe burns as an infant in 1994.

Miguel Nieto Sr. is expected to resume testimony today.


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