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Atascadero mother sentenced in death of child

An Atascadero woman sentenced Friday to more than 20 years in prison for her role in the death of her baby daughter wept and apologized, while a judge called her punishment appropriate even if her story was “heartbreaking all the way around.”

Arianne Mercé Brito, 25, could be about 40 years old when she’s released from prison — factoring time already served and credit for good behavior.

Wearing a red jumpsuit, with her hair braided, Brito spoke through heavy tears in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, saying that she was “sorry for the pain” she caused.

“I wish I could do something now, but I can’t,” Brito said. “My daughter is gone. I miss her. I don’t have her anymore.”

Brito pleaded no contest — which results in a conviction without officially admitting guilt — on Dec. 18 to eight counts of child endangerment with an additional penalty for an injury resulting in death, as well as voluntary manslaughter.

During the sentencing, Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall called Brito an accomplice in the beating death of her 20-month-old daughter, Natalia Brito. Her husband, Fermín Brito Palacios, fatally struck his daughter in the chest on June 23, 2007.

Brito tried to cover up the crime and help her husband escape, and she used illegal drugs with her husband after their child’s death, Deputy District Attorney Jackie Duffy said.

Brito Palacios was sentenced to 31 years to life in prison for murder.

Crandall said that Brito allowed her daughter to go back to “a monster” repeatedly after abuse had already occurred in the child’s life.

Crandall said he was handing down his sentence with a “heavy heart” and urged Brito to make something of her life and to become a productive member of society.

“I hope you try to turn your life around,” Crandall said. “I wish you luck, as hard as it is and as long as (the prison sentence) will be.”

Defense attorney Paul Phillips said he hoped for a lighter sentence for his client but couldn’t risk taking the case to trial and having Brito possibly spend the rest of her life in prison if convicted.

Reading from a three-page statement during the hearing, Brito’s father, Tony Rector, said his daughter married an abusive man who physically harmed her and his granddaughter.

Rector, who lives in Atascadero, said that Brito Palacios told him and his wife lies, including giving them an incorrect last name, fibbing about his immigration status and saying that he had no children when he had two.

“Later, Fermín, while married to Arianne, had a third child with the mother of his two other children,” Rector said.

Rector described a manipulative husband who kept Brito away from her friends and parents.

“After six months of living with Fermín, Arianne virtually stopped seeing us (her family) except for the occasional visit for Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Rector said. “She even canceled out on a long-planned trip to meet relatives in South America for the first time.”

Rector said the family believed she was too scared to stop her husband’s violence toward Natalia and is the victim of battered-person syndrome. That is a recognized condition in which people who are abused are overcome by helplessness, typically used as a legal defense in cases where a defendant is accused of killing an abusive spouse or partner.

“Only in the past month — after Fermín was sentenced and sent off to prison — did she allow us to visit her again (and we have done so several times),” Rector said. “We believe that even behind bars, Fermín had some control over Arianne’s will.”

Rector said he and his wife, Mercé, hope their daughter gets a chance to become a better person, finish college and be a useful member of the community.

“Arianne will without a doubt live the rest of her life with the pain and guilt of Natalia’s death,” Rector said.

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