Atascadero father sentenced for 20-month-old daughter’s death

An Atascadero man convicted last month of killing his 20-month-old daughter was sentenced Monday to 31 years to life in state prison.

Judge Charles S. Crandall handed down the sentence to 29-year-old Fermin Brito Palacios for his Sept. 10 conviction for physically abusing and killing his daughter, Natalia Brito.

Crandall said that he didn’t see any remorse from Palacios, which might have lightened the punishment, and called the murder a cruel act against a “defenseless, fragile” child.

“You inflicted a horrible death,” Crandall said.

When asked before his sentencing if he’d like to comment, Palacios said through his Spanish-language interpreter that he didn’t think what was going on in court was fair.

“It’s not just what they’re doing,” Palacios said.

The judge allowed a few moments of silence for him to continue with his statement, but Palacios said no more. Palacios didn’t explain specifically who he was referring to and what he meant.

Crandall said Palacios’ comment “appalled” him because it was all he could say and because Palacios didn’t think justice was done.

Palacios’ lawyer, Linden Mackaoui, said outside of the courtroom that he believed his client was referring to the strong comments from the baby’s maternal grandparents before the sentencing.

Mackaoui argued that Palacios showed remorse, including his cooperation with investigators in which he admitted wrongdoings that helped prosecutor Jackie Duffy persuade a jury to convict him.

“He acknowledged wrongdoing in the early stages of the court proceedings,” Mackaoui said. “He expressed remorse at times in the video (during police questioning).”

Before the sentence was read, Anthony Rector, Natalia’s grandfather, called Palacios a “secretive, deceitful and misogynistic man.”

Rector said that he and his wife, Mercé, cared for Natalia most of the time in the final few months of her life after their daughter moved back home with them in Atascadero in February 2007.

The grandfather said their home became the baby’s sanctuary as Mercé Rector cooked homemade meals for and bathed Natalia.

Anthony Rector said he took many photos of Natalia eating, bathing, smiling, playing and “just being cute.”

“Though nothing will bring back Natalia’s life — and our sadness won’t go away — no person capable of such a monstrous transgression against humanity should be allowed to repeat such a wicked crime,” Rector said.

The Rectors are the parents of the baby’s mother, Arianne Brito, who faces a trial in January that accuses her of charges including murder, child abuse and helping Palacios to escape.

Anthony Rector said after Natalia had been out with her parents for extended periods of time, she’d return with bumps and bruises.

The grandfather called his 24-year-old daughter’s marriage “tormented” and had doubts about Arianne’s explanations for Natalia’s injuries, but they “mistakenly chose to believe the best,” Rector said.

“Now, too late, we know in most cases it was probably the worst,” Rector said.

Palacios told police that he had buried his daughter under blankets in a closet and left her, as well as repeatedly hit her, over the course of several months.

Palacios told police that he struck her in the chest on the day she died, June 23, 2007.

Medical examiners discovered that Natalia had encephalitis, a brain inflammation that can be caused by a virus and may lead to death.

But the jury decided that Palacios’ physical abuse caused the baby’s death.