A 12-year-old girl testified Friday that her father, Marco Barrera, killed her 2-year-old sister and then beat her 5-year-old brother daily until his death in 1998.
Maria Esquivel, speaking in a hushed courtroom in San Fernando, recalled the final minutes of Guadalupe "Lupita" Esquivel's young life, but had difficulty remembering the particular beating that caused Ernesto Esquivel's death.
Barrera, 38, could face the death penalty for killing and allegedly torturing his two children. Sheriff's deputies found their bodies buried in the Angeles National Forest in March 1998. Autopsies showed that 13 of the boy's ribs had been broken and that he had suffered fractures of both arms; Lupita died of a fractured skull and internal bleeding.
Maria remained composed throughout her nearly two hours of testimony in Barrera's murder trial. She wept openly just once, when trying to recall Ernesto's death.
She often put her hands over her eyes as Deputy Dist. Atty. Carolyn McNary questioned her about the years of abuse involving her siblings.
Barrera's attorney, Arthur Braudrick, said his client has admitted to fatally beating both children but has said he did not torture them. Braudrick is asking the San Fernando jury to spare the Pacoima man's life by convicting him of second-degree murder.
Maria is the first of Barrera's children to testify against him. At least two others are expected to take the stand next week in Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen's courtroom.
Maria testified that one morning Lupita wet a mattress the children all slept on, precipitating a beating by Barrera that ended in Lupita's death.
"My dad started hitting her with his hand and threw her on the wall," she said.
When Lupita cried, Barrera ordered Maria to give her a cold shower. Maria said she began a warm shower, but Barrera came into the bathroom and turned on the cold water.
When Lupita continued to cry, Barrera carried her from the bathroom by one arm while hitting the 2-year-old on the back with his hand, Maria said.
After the beating, "my dad threw her into the wall" about eight feet away, she said. "It sounded like something cracked . . . her neck went down" and she stopped crying.
Barrera ordered Maria to try to prop up Lupita's head, she said, but she couldn't. "It kept going down," she testified.
"You killed her," Maria said her aunt told Barrera.
"He told [her aunt] not to tell nobody," Maria testified; he told the children "don't tell nobody."
Maria said that was the last time she was with her sister.
After Lupita's death, Maria said, Barrera treated Ernesto "nice" for about a week, then began to beat him daily.
"He used to hit him so hard . . . [with] a belt, leather shoes, whatever he could find," she said.
Ernesto "had red marks, bruises, a broken leg," Maria testified. She said Ernesto would hop on one foot because his other leg was broken.
Before his death, the prosecutor said, Ernesto was in a coma.
Maria described how her brother was propped against the wall, where his siblings and aunt tried to feed him. "It looked like he was asleep," she testified.
Maria said she could not recall what happened to Ernesto the day he died, but she described vividly the night she helped bury him.
Ernesto's body was on the floor in the back seat of Barrera's car, and Maria was among the children in the back seat.
Barrera told them "to put our feet up so we don't have to touch the body," Maria said.
He also told his children that if police stopped them, to put their feet down to hide the body.
In the forest, Barrera instructed his children to tell authorities, if confronted, "that we didn't know what was going on, that we never saw the body before," Maria said.
Maria told jurors she did not immediately tell police about Lupita's death because her father had threatened her before his arrest. It took authorities three weeks before they realized Barrera had another child buried in the same forest.
"He said when he came out of jail he would hit us," Maria testified. "I knew my dad would come out of jail . . . and he would hit us really hard."
Maria told jurors her father focused most of his abuse on two of the 14 children he fathered with his wife, Petra Ricardo, 39, also known as Petra Esquivel, and her sister, Maria Ricardo, 31, also known as Juana Barrera.
The family tree is so confusing that McNary brought a chart showing all the children and their relationship to the two women. Not only do some of the children share the same first names, but the family has also used so many aliases over the years that even the authorities have had difficulty determining their real names.
Maria Ricardo is also on trial for child abuse and accessory to murder; Petra Ricardo is serving four years in prison for child endangerment, under a plea agreement that requires her to testify against her husband and sister.