As part of a plea bargain, the mother of two children beaten to death by their father was sentenced to four years in prison Friday for child endangerment, then ordered released because she already had served more than enough time in jail.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen ordered Petra Ricardo, 38, released from Twin Towers Correctional Facility. She has been held there without bail since her 1998 arrest.
Ricardo pleaded no contest to child endangerment last August under a plea agreement that required her to testify against her husband and sister.
Earlier this month, Ricardo testified that her husband, Marco Barrera, 38, of Pacoima, brought the dead or dying children to her and told her they had been injured in accidents. She said she did not witness the abuse that led to their deaths.
On Wednesday, a San Fernando jury found that Barrera should be executed for beating to death 2-year-old Guadalupe "Lupita" Esquivel and 5-year-old Ernesto Esquivel and burying them in Angeles National Forest. He will be sentenced next month.
The victims' maternal aunt, Maria Ricardo, 31, also was convicted last week of two counts of child abuse. She could be sentenced to up to 12 years in prison.
Barrera fathered eight children, including Lupita and Ernesto, with his wife, and six more with her sister. Most of the children, including the two victims, lived in a converted Pacoima garage with Barrera, a street vendor, and Maria Ricardo.
Although the victims did not live with Petra Ricardo, "We felt she could have stepped in earlier" to save their lives, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.