Woman Testifies She Saw No Abuse

Times Staff Writer

A witness testified Tuesday that she never saw suspected child killer Patrick Santillano neglect, abuse or starve a 14-month-old boy who died two years ago while in the care of the defendant and his girlfriend.

Marissa Lopez briefly lived with the couple in Oxnard during a three-month period in which they cared for the child. She told jurors the toddler did not appear to be malnourished or abused.

Santillano, 33, is charged with murder, torture, child abuse causing death and aggravated mayhem in connection with the October 2000 death of Demitri Robledo. The child lived with the defendant and his girlfriend, Teresa Rodriguez, while his mother served time on drug charges.

According to prosecutors, Santillano, an admitted heroin dealer, abused the baby by denying him food, binding his arms and legs and gagging him to stop the toddler from crying.

Rodriguez took the child to a hospital Oct. 22 after she noticed he was having trouble breathing. He was pronounced dead an hour later. She has since pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and mayhem for failing to stop the alleged attacks and told prosecutors that Santillano beat and tortured the boy.

Santillano's attorney contends that it was Rodriguez who neglected and abused the baby and is responsible for his death.

On Tuesday, however, Lopez described Rodriguez as a caring mother who, in addition to providing for her own 2-year-old daughter, attended to Demitri like he was her son. Lopez testified that she saw Rodriguez buy clothes and diapers for the child and witnessed her holding and comforting the boy.

"She took real good care of him," she said, adding that Santillano sometimes yelled at Rodriguez.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Steve Powell tried to show that Lopez is biased against his client.

Lopez admitted that she dislikes Santillano and has recently exchanged letters with Rodriguez, who remains in a county jail. Lopez also acknowledged that she did not witness any abusive behavior by Santillano toward the child.

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