Wednesday, 26 January 2011

FILICIDE: Ontario: Erika Mendieta

 Megan O'Toole, January 17, 2011 
Erika Mendieta, 33, outside the University Avenue Courthouse, where she was on trial for second-degree murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, seen in this November 10, 2009 file photo.
  Photograph by: Peter J. Thompson, National Post
TORONTO — Anguished cries rang out in a Toronto courtroom late Monday after Erika Mendieta was found guilty of manslaughter in the beating death of her two-year-old daughter, Emmily.

Mendieta's family, who packed the court as Justice Nola Garton handed down her lengthy verdict, sobbed as they learned the 34-year-old's fate.

"My daughter is innocent," screamed a distraught Juana Nakata, Mendieta's mother, as she exited court. "How is she going to kill my granddaughter? Never."

One of Mendieta's six children, Blanca, appeared hysterical, sobbing loudly as her father attempted to comfort her. "I lost her. I lost her," the girl cried.

Garton took nearly five hours to deliver her verdict, recounting all the evidence of a case that ended twice in separate mistrials.

While acquitting Mendieta of the higher charge of second-degree murder, citing a lack of intent to kill, Garton concluded she was guilty of manslaughter. The sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 11.

"The evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Mendieta caused the injuries that led to Emmily's death," Garton stated, noting the accused "struck Emmily a number of times in the head and body" in the incident leading to the toddler's death.

In delivering her ruling, the judge heaped scorn on Mendieta's credibility as a witness, suggesting she conspired with her boyfriend to conceal her own culpability.

Emmily died in 2003 after police found her bruised and battered body inside the home where the two-year-old lived with her mother and her boyfriend, Johnny Bermudez.

Mendieta — who listened attentively to Monday's judgment, wearing a white winter coat and with striking blond highlights colouring her dark hair — was charged with second-degree murder following a police investigation of the death, which emergency officials had immediately flagged as suspicious.

Though Mendieta suggested to paramedics that her daughter's injuries were the result of an earlier fall down the stairs, the pattern of bruising indicated multiple sources of trauma, the court heard.

Little Emmily, who was just 88 centimetres long when she died, ultimately succumbed to severe head injuries.

The judge highlighted inconsistencies in Mendieta's testimony, including the accused's recollection of the date her daughter was supposed to have fallen down the stairs. Garton also pointed to an intercepted conversation between Mendieta and Bermudez, in which the accused cried: "I didn't want her to die . . . She was a really good kid . . . I didn't mean to."

The defence has suggested Mendieta blamed herself for her child's death because she had failed to bring her to hospital right after the initial fall, but Garton cited it as evidence of her "crisis of conscience."

Mendieta's case has encountered numerous difficulties as it has worked its way through the court system.

The first mistrial was declared after Bermudez claimed responsibility for Emmily's death, testifying under the protection of the Canada Evidence Act.

Bermudez told the court he slapped and pushed the toddler, frustrated by her crying. But Bermudez was evasive on a number of points, including how often Mendieta disciplined her six children, and the Crown ultimately dismissed his testimony as not credible.

"His entire story about assaulting Emmily is a lie . . . Ms. Mendieta and Mr. Bermudez have discussed their evidence together and agreed to alter it," Garton suggested.

A second mistrial was declared after a Crown attorney allegedly made faces at Mendieta while she testified, which the judge said may have hampered the jury's ability to assess her truthfulness.

Outside court, Emmily's biological father, Derrick Parra, said he was relieved the ordeal had reached its conclusion over seven years after his daughter's death.

"It's finally over," Parra said. "My daughter can rest in peace now."

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