Atascadero woman agrees to sentence in death of child

An Atascadero woman has agreed to a prison sentence of nearly 21 years after pleading no contest to nine charges in connection with her baby daughter’s death in 2007, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Arianne Mercé Brito, 24, is the wife of 29-year-old Fermin Brito Palacios, who received a sentence of 31 years to life after a Sept. 10 conviction for beating their daughter to death.

Brito also initially was charged with killing the 20-month-old child, Natalia Brito, and her trial had been scheduled for Jan. 26. Brito entered her plea on Dec. 18 to eight counts of child endangerment, with the enhanced penalty of an injury resulting in death, and one count of voluntary manslaughter.

Prosecutors dropped charges of murder and assault of a child under 8 resulting in death.

A no contest plea is similar to a guilty plea and results in a conviction.

Brito is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 22 in Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall’s courtroom.

“We feel the plea in this case is consistent with her conduct,” Assistant District Attorney Daniel Hilford said.

But Brito’s attorney, Paul Phillips, said Palacios had extreme control and influence over his wife.

Phillips acknowledged his client’s “inadequacy as a parent” for failing to report her husband’s abuse, but pointed out that she tried to get the baby medical treatment the day she died.

“I would have liked to see a sentence of 10 years, but it would have been highly questionable to go to trial and risk her spending the rest of her life in prison,” Phillips said.

Palacios told Atascadero police in a videotaped interview that he struck the baby in the chest the day she died on June 23, 2007. Brito later took the child to Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton, where doctors tried to save Natalia.

Brito failed to report Palacios’ physical abuse of Natalia over several months, investigators said, including times when the couple left the baby alone, burying her under blankets in a closet.

Palacios also told police when interviewed how his wife told him to escape, and he left for Santa Barbara, where police found him.

Brito’s parents — Anthony and Mercé Rector — testified against Palacios during his trial and gave a statement at his sentencing.

Anthony Rector said his daughter married Palacios in secret in 2004 at the age of 19, and much of the “tormented marriage” was a mystery to his wife and him until after the baby’s death.

Brito had explanations for injuries on Natalia’s body, Rector said, and “mistakenly we chose to believe the best.”

Rector shared memories of Natalia from when she stayed with Rector and his wife in their Atascadero home during the final few months of her life.

“Natalia became a delightful toddler and she was glad to receive and reciprocate all the affection and attention she got from us,” Rector said.

The grandparents bought her cute clothing and colorful toys, took photos of her, and cooked her homemade meals, he said.“We will always remember her fleeting, fragile, precious life,” Rector said.