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Prosecutor Says Mother Killed Her Toddler

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With all she’d been through, Maria Barajas knew better than to violently shake her 19-month-old daughter, a prosecutor told a jury Wednesday during closing arguments in the woman’s murder trial.

Child welfare workers had twice taken Barajas’ children away after allegations of abuse, she had completed years of counseling and parenting classes and was specifically taught about the danger of shaking a baby, Deputy Dist. Atty. Peter Korn said.

Yet last June, Korn said, the woman shook Marisela so hard the girl’s brain rattled inside her skull and her eyes hemorrhaged; she also smashed the toddler’s head against something hard enough to fatally fracture her skull, Korn said. She is charged with murder and assault causing death.

“She shook her by her rib cage and she killed her,” Korn told the jury. “She knew it was wrong and she did it anyway.”

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But Public Defender Rose Reglos countered that the death was an accident and that Barajas shook Marisela in a misguided attempt to help her.

She repeated what the defendant initially told investigators--that Marisela fell down a flight of stairs leading to the family’s Canoga Park apartment and that Barajas found the little girl at the landing.

“Maria went down the stairs and she shook this child. She shook this child to revive her, not to hurt her,” Reglos said.

She also argued that there was no proof that Barajas was ever taught the dangers of shaking a baby and that the prosecutor brought up incidents of prior abuse during the trial mainly to demonize her client.

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After working hard for years to be reunited with her children, she would not risk her family by doing something that she knew would harm the girl, Reglos said.

“The medical evidence is clear as to why Marisela died: because her mother Maria knew no better,” Reglos said.

Korn called the defendant’s version of events “bull.”

He pointed to coroner’s testimony that Marisela’s injuries were not caused by a fall, but by abuse at the hands of an adult.

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He repeated Barajas’ statements to police at the hospital when, confronted with bruises on the child’s buttocks and chest, scrapes on her fingers and the eye hemorrhages, the woman admitted to having “lost patience” with the girl and slapped and shaken her on several occasions for misbehaving.

Korn said the woman became progressively frustrated with the child for breaking a videotape, knocking over a fan and repeatedly getting into the toilet. He said she shook her over and over in a final fit of anger in the bathroom.

When she realized the girl was hurt, Barajas left Marisela at her sister’s house, rather than call an ambulance, Korn said.

“Saving that baby was not on her mind,” Korn said. “The defendant had to buy some time to figure out what to do here because she just killed that baby and she knows it.”

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It was her husband who called paramedics when he got home from work. When Barajas came home, she took her 2-week-old infant--a child the Department of Children and Family Services did not know about--and hid the baby at a brother’s house before going to the hospital, Korn said.

Barajas’ children were first taken from her in 1992, Korn said, after child welfare workers received allegations that she had abused her son Jose, then 5. After a year of parenting classes and counseling, she got her kids back.

In 1995, a 14-year-old daughter complained to authorities that she was abused and Barajas again lost her children. After 2 1/2 years of counseling, Korn said, Marisela and an older brother were returned for a two-month trial.

“Marisela’s death was inevitable the day that child was put in her custody. It was just a matter of time,” Korn told the jury. “This defendant snuffed that little girl’s life out. Don’t you let her get away with it.”

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