Natalia Brito, a 20-month-old toddler, died in June 2007 after being beaten by her father.
Natalia was struck in the chest by Fermin Brito Palacios, 29, on the day of her death. Her mother, Arianne Brito, took her to Twin Cities Community Hospital later that day due to shortness of breath.
Police were called to the hospital after medical staff found deep bruising all over the young girl’s body, as well as inconsistent stories from the mother about how the injuries occurred.
Natalia died at the hospital.
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Police traced Palacios down to a relative’s house near Santa Barbara after he had been given a tip-off from his wife and attempted to hideout.
Both parents were taken into custody and later pleaded not guilty to charges including second-degree murder, child endangerment, and felony assault of a child under the age of 8.
Prosecutors did not believe that Brito was involved in the beating of the child, but said the fact she stood idly by while Palacios abused her daughter was just as bad, if not worse.
In videotaped police questioning, Palacios admitted to abusing his child, claiming that he, along with his wife, would bury the child in blankets and leave her for hours at a time in a coat closet, and would also hit the child and leave her bound and gagged. Palacios also spoke of marijuana and cocaine use during that time.
A jury of seven women and five men convicted Palacios on all charges, and Judge Charles S. Crandall sentenced him to 31 years to life in state prison.
The punishment may have been lighter, but Crandall said that he saw no remorse from the father.
“You inflicted a horrible death,” said Crandall, calling the murder a cruel act on a “defenseless, fragile” child.
Arianne Brito’s trial was held after her husband’s, and she pleaded no contest to eight counts of child endangerment, with the enhanced penalty of injury resulting in death, and one count of voluntary manslaughter. Charges of murder and assault of a child were dropped. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The grandparents of the child, Anthony and Merce Rector, testified in court. They stated that they had been almost exclusively caring for the child during the last few months of her life, having her at their house during the week when their daughter was working. They often had questions about their granddaughter’s injuries, but believed the stories that they were told. Natalia would return to their home after her weekends with her parents seeming “frazzled and hungry,” but would light up as soon as she was inside, and it seemed as if “the house was her sanctuary.”
Rector recalled the girl “freaking out and crying” whenever he would open the door to a coat closet near the front door of his home.