Horrifying trial of LQ woman accused of killing daughter finally nears its end

LA QUINTA, Calif. - Closing arguments are scheduled this morning in the trial of a La Quinta woman accused of causing the death of her 3-year-old daughter and abusing another daughter.

Yolanda Guadalupe Pena, 43, faces one count each of murder, torture and assaulting a child causing great bodily injury and five counts of inflicting injury on a child. Those five injury counts relate to a daughter who was 12 at the time.

Pena, who is in custody in lieu of $1 million bail, was arrested June 30, 2009, in connection with her younger daughter's death. She faces life in prison if convicted.

The toddler, Delilah Urrutia, suffered head trauma, second-degree burns on her face, neck, chest, back and arms, cuts and bruises, and lost parts of three fingers, according to police and prosecutors.

Delilah was dead when authorities arrived at her home in the 44000 block of Vista Dunes Lane in La Quinta about 10:15 p.m. on June 25, 2009, according to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

According to the District Attorney's Office, Pena had an affair while married and the 12-year-old daughter -- who Pena is accused of abusing -- told her father about it, leading to the breakup of the marriage.

"Pena blamed Delilah, who was fathered by the man with whom Pena had an affair, for why she never reconciled with her former husband," a statement from the DA's Office alleges.

Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria told jurors last week that Pena sent Delilah to live with a relative of her best friend when the girl was about 2, then took her back several months later.

Pena allegedly physically abused Delilah and one of her two older daughters. Pena allegedly told the daughter who hadn't been abused that she would be punished, too, unless she reported her sisters' misdeeds to her, the prosecutor said.

DiMaria said Delilah and an older sister would sometimes sit in the bathtub while hot and cold water were poured over them. Other times, Delilah was tied up in a plastic bin and put in a closet, with her mouth duct-taped, DiMaria alleged.

The day Delilah died, one of the older daughters -- who was about 11 -- was home with the girl, the prosecutor said. The older daughter told their mother, who was at work, that Delilah was misbehaving, DiMaria said.

"So the defendant ordered (her daughter) to get a cup of water and heat it in the microwave ... and pour it on her sister," DiMaria told jurors in her opening statement. "And she did that all day."

When Pena got home, she saw Delilah looking at her older sister, which wasn't allowed, "so the defendant started hitting Delilah in the head, hard. (The older daughter) says she did it more than 20 times, and that's supported by the massive brain bleed suffered by this little girl," DiMaria said.

Pena left to go to her best friend's house after allegedly tying the toddlers' wrists and ankles, putting a sock in her mouth and a stocking over her head, DiMaria said. She was left in a plastic bin.

Later that night, once Pena and the older daughter came home, Pena untied Delilah and told the older girl to check her pulse. She didn't feel one and called her mother's best friend, then 911.

"The defendant also told (her daughter): `Do not tell police what happened. Tell them she poured water on herself and that she hits herself,"' DiMaria said.

Pena's attorney, Thomas Cavanaugh, told jurors last week that his client was a "very conscientious, hardworking single parent" who struggled to support her family. Pena was a housekeeper at Eisenhower Medical Center.

He said Pena was a "very fastidious woman" whose discipline of her children "warped into abuse." She disciplined them when they didn't get good grades or did something wrong.

"This is a case of a struggling mother who crossed the line and became abusive, but with those goals in mind," Cavanaugh said.

Delilah, he said, was a "troubled child" who struggled in the strict environment and acted out. He said Pena was very upset and emotional when her daughter died.

"Despite the evidence of abuse ... Ms. Pena did not intend or cause the death of her child on the day in question," Cavanaugh said.

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