Nearly six years after a 9-month-old infant was found not breathing, with fractured bones and a burn on her leg, the child’s mother is headed to court to face murder charges.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Wednesday ordered Ivette Melissa Gonzalez, 32, to stand trial in the death of her daughter, Selena.
On May 5, 2018, Gonzalez called paramedics from a laundromat near her Los Angeles home. According to investigators, she’d run there with the baby in tow to report that her daughter was not breathing.
Firefighters who responded found a “chaotic scene” in which a woman was performing chest compressions on a baby. Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Cody Weireter said the infant was “blue in color.”
The baby was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
“She said that the baby had stopped breathing after feeding her some rice,” former Los Angeles Police Det. Moses Castillo told The Times.
Castillo, who testified at Wednesday’s preliminary hearing, said: “She thought that the rice, maybe it was too much and it was blocking her airways, so she put her on the floor and punched her on the stomach in hopes that it would expel the rice.”
Gonzalez was arrested the day she called paramedics, but the district attorney’s office deferred filing criminal charges until after Selena’s autopsy report was completed, said Castillo, who was an investigator of child abuse cases in the LAPD’s juvenile division at the time of Selena’s death and retired in 2020. He was the initial lead investigator on Selena’s case and met with Gonzalez in the hospital the day of her daughter’s death.
Gonzalez was charged with murder and assault on a child causing death in February 2019. She was taken into custody, where she has remained in lieu of $2-million bail.
An autopsy determined Selena’s cause of death to be a combination of blunt force trauma, possible asphyxia, chronically inflicted abusive trauma, coronavirus and pneumonia. Three drugs were also found in Selena’s system that may have contributed to her death: THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana; trazodone, an antidepressant; and cyclobenzaprine, a muscle relaxant.
When asked about the drugs in the baby’s system, Gonzalez said she had left pills scattered all over the house at the time, according to LAPD Det. Alina Gheta.
Castillo testified that he had seen drug paraphernalia when visiting Gonzalez’s home. She tested positive for THC and opiates.
Dr. Carol Berkowitz, a pediatrician who works as a pediatric consultant for the Los Angeles County medical examiner’s office, testified that she reviewed a document indicating the baby was not being breast-fed, making it unlikely the drugs were passed through breast milk.
Castillo said Selena had a sizable square-patterned burn on her left leg. Gonzalez had said it was the result of a hot stroller during a recent trip to a water park, Great Wolf Lodge in Anaheim, but Castillo said it resembled a burn caused by a flatiron or other household appliance.
Gonzalez’s husband backed up her account of how the girl’s leg had been injured earlier, and said the girl was fine when he left for work, according to Gheta.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Jonathan Hatami, the prosecutor in the case, said court proceedings had been delayed for Gonzalez in part because of mental health treatment, but offered no further comment. A representative for the Los Angeles County public defender’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Castillo said the charges of murder and child abuse causing death carry prison sentences of 25 years to life.
“No child should ever have any fractures, absent a car crash or freak accident,” Castillo said.
Gonzalez is due in court for an arraignment hearing Jan. 24.
City News Service contributed to this report.