La Quinta woman sentenced to two life terms for killing daughter

INDIO, Calif. -

A La Quinta woman who tortured and fatally beat her 3-year-old daughter after abusing the toddler and an older daughter for months was sentenced today to two life prison terms.

Yolanda Guadalupe Pena, 43, was convicted in June of first-degree murder, torture, assaulting a child causing great bodily injury and inflicting injury on a child. The latter count related to a daughter who was 12 at the time. Pena was sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder charge and life for the torture, and the terms must be served consecutively.

The 3-year-old, 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.

Pena was arrested June 30, 2009, in connection with her youngest daughter's death, which occurred five days earlier.

The toddler was dead when authorities arrived at the family's home in the 44000 block of Vista Dunes Lane about 10:15 p.m. June 25, 2009. She died of blunt force trauma to the head, according to the coroner's office.

Pena told one of her two older daughters to pour hot water on Delilah for misbehavior while the defendant was at work, causing burns over more than 30 percent of the child's body, according to Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria. When she got home, Delilah looked at her -- which was not allowed -- ``and that set her off,'' the prosecutor said.

``The defendant proceeded at that point to beat that little girl's brains out. She threw her against the wall, used a high-heeled shoe. ... (Pena's older daughters) said the defendant continued to hit Delilah in the head at least 20 times,'' DiMaria said.

Pena then stuffed a stocking in Delilah's mouth, put a stocking over her head, bound her wrists and ankles and put her in a plastic bin ``like trash,'' the prosecutor said. Pena put the bin in a closet and left home with her older daughter to visit her best friend.

When they found Delilah dead later that night, her arms were up at 90-degree angles ``because that is the way rigor mortis set her arms as she died in that plastic coffin,'' DiMaria told the jury.

She said the victim was the product of an affair Pena had while married. Her then-12-year-old daughter -- who Pena also abused -- told her father about it, leading to the breakup of the marriage.

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

Pena told the daughter who hadn't been abused that she would be punished, too, unless she reported her sisters' misdeeds to the defendant, the prosecutor said.

Pena's attorney, Thomas Cavanaugh, conceded there was abuse in the household, but told jurors that it was likely the tot ``hit her head on the floor more than once'' while ``fleeing from her sister.''

"By the time (Pena) got home, this child was in a very bad way,'' he said. The defense attorney said Pena did not get medical help for Delilah, and there was no excuse for that. But ``those head injuries were caused before Ms. Pena got home'' and Delilah's other injuries that day were not given at her mother's direction.

``She did not inflict the injuries that caused her child's death,'' he said. `` ... There are big questions about that day and a lack of forensic evidence.''

He also said there was no evidence of injuries to the two older daughters, and asked that jurors consider manslaughter instead of murder.

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