Crime

Santa Maria girl sentenced for newborn baby’s murder

Maribel S., a Santa Maria girl convicted of second-degree murder for the death of her newborn baby, sits beside Deputy Public Defender Lea Villegas on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2016. The 16-year-old was sentenced to a residential treatment facility after being convicted of second-degree murder.
Maribel S., a Santa Maria girl convicted of second-degree murder for the death of her newborn baby, sits beside Deputy Public Defender Lea Villegas on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2016. The 16-year-old was sentenced to a residential treatment facility after being convicted of second-degree murder. Noozhawk

A 16-year-old Santa Maria girl convicted of killing her newborn baby must spend at least six months — and possibly longer — in a residential treatment program, a judge decided Thursday.

The Santa Barbara County Probation Department recommended the judge order Maribel to the State Division of Juvenile Justice, while her attorney sought placement in a group home.

Another option would have been to release the girl to her home.

The judge said he considered a number of factors — including lack of prior criminal history and more — in deeming the appropriate sentence for the girl.

“Rehabilitation is not just a word, it is the purpose of juvenile court,” Garcia said.

Maribel was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of her newborn baby boy a year ago, with the judge deeming as true the allegation she used a deadly weapon — a broccoli-harvesting knife.

The then-15-year-old girl gave birth in her family’s apartment, putting the baby in a bag and stuffing it behind shoes in the bathroom vanity.

Taken to Marian Regional Medical Center, the girl admitted she had given birth, and hospital staff alerted police, who later found the baby’s body with a slashed throat, among other injuries.

The case has been emotional for everyone, the judge said, calling the loss of a child’s life tragic.

While adult convictions come with mandatory sentences, minors in juvenile courts are treated differently.

“That’s the way it should be, because juveniles are not adults,” Garcia said.

As he set six-month and 12-month review dates, the judge warned the girl could wind up in the state system if she doesn’t comply with treatment.

“I want Maribel to understand that the Division of Juvenile Facilities is not off the table,” Garcia said. “Being placed on probation is not a joke. It’s very serious.”

The judge declined to release the girl to her parents and instead made her a ward of the court.

“The facts are: Maribel murdered her baby, Anthony,” the judge said. “She will suffer the consequences.”

As of Thursday, the teen had spent 349 days incarcerated in Juvenile Hall since her arrest. Her transfer to the top-level group home, possibly Casa Pacific in Camarillo, could occur within days.

Garcia said youths sent to the state facility typically are entrenched in gang culture with a series of increasingly violent offenses.

“Maribel does not fit that profile,” Garcia said.

On Wednesday afternoon, the judge heard from defense attorney Lea Villegas, Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian and the girl’s parents regarding what sentence Maribel should receive.

Villegas, who called two witnesses, said placement in a Division of Juvenile Justice facility would not ensure the girl receives necessary treatment for her mental health issues, which he blamed on sexual abuse by relatives in Mexico.

Placement in the state facility would not be appropriate, Villegas asserted Wednesday.

State law requires a judge to consider whether a juvenile convicted of crimes is a risk to public safety, and whether a placement would help rehabilitate the minor, the defense attorney added.

Villegas called the juvenile facility a last resort for girls convicted of violent crimes, saying it is a “prison for kids.”

“It’s where we send the worst of the worst,” Villegas said.

Probation officials initially contacted several in-state and out-of-state group homes, but determined Maribel was not eligible because of the murder conviction.

The girl has willingly participated in treatment and other programs at Juvenile Hall, including catching up on credits for high school, and has made significant progress, witnesses said.

Karapetian said she disagreed that Maribel does not pose a public-safety risk.

While incarcerated in Santa Maria Juvenile Hall, Maribel has undergone some treatment, although the prosecutor questioned how extensive it has been.

“Her treatment has barely scratched the surface of that,” Karapetian said.

The state Division of Juvenile Justice provides education and treatment to California’s youthful offenders up to the age of 25. The program is for girls and boys with the most serious criminal backgrounds and most intense treatment needs, according to its website.

Sentencing the girl to the state facility did not guarantee she would spend seven years there, Karapetian said, adding the Division of Juvenile Justice is equipped to provide the treatment Maribel needs.

The judge also asked the girl’s parents if they wanted to make statements.

Her dad said he blamed himself.

“She regrets everything that has happened,” he added.

“She’s a child. Forgive her,” her mom said. “I’m asking you from the heart to forgive my daughter.”

Noozhawk is a Santa Barbara-based news website. North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.

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