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 convicted today of first-degree murder and other charges.
Yolanda Guadalupe Pena, 43, was convicted of one count each of murder, torture, assaulting a child causing great bodily injury and inflicting injury on a child. The latter count relates to a daughter who was 12 at the time.
Jurors deliberated for three days before reaching a verdict, and Pena sat with her head bowed as it was read.
She was scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 6, and faces up to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Pena was arrested June 30, 2009, in connection with her youngest daughter's death.
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. She died of blunt force trauma to the head, according to the coroner's office.
The youngster 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, according to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.
``This was not an accident -- this was cold-blooded murder,'' Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria told jurors in her closing argument Wednesday. ``It was intentional, it was deliberate, and at the hands of that depraved woman who gave birth to her.''
Pena told one of her two older daughters to pour hot water on Delilah for alleged misbehavior while the defendant was at work, causing burns over more than 30 percent of the child's body, according to 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.
According to the District Attorney's Office, Pena had an affair while married and her then-12-year-old daughter -- who Pena also abused -- 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,'' according to the District Attorney's Office.
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 alleged.
Pena allegedly 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, told jurors the case was ``heartbreaking'' and there was abuse in the household. But he urged jurors to follow the law, not their emotions.
He argued that Pena's best friend told the older daughter to pour the hot water on Delilah, and the older girl said she had no contact with her mother while she was at work.
``Those burns were inflicted without (the older daughter) speaking to my client, Ms. Pena, that day,'' Cavanaugh said in his closing argument.
The older daughter said Delilah ran into a wall, and it's likely she hit her head on the floor more than once ``fleeing from her sister,'' Cavanaugh said. ``By the time (Pena) got home, this child was in a very bad way.''
He said Pena did not get medical help for Delilah, and there was no excuse for that. But, he said, ``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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