A baby stolen from his mother has been reunited with his family and the couple suspected of killing his mother sits behind bars.
The Merced County Sheriff’s Department announced Thursday they had arrested a Planada couple for the death of 26-year-old Ana DeCeja and the kidnapping of her 2-month-old son Anthony Ceja. Later that night Child Protective Services reunited the infant with his father, though DNA results are still pending.
Teresa Ceja Robles, 33, and her husband, Jose Augustine Velarde, 37, were booked into Merced County Jail on homicide and kidnapping charges. The couple pled not guilty at their arraignment Friday in Merced County Superior Court.
Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said Robles had become distraught after suffering a miscarriage over the summer and with her husband concocted the plot to steal DeCeja’s baby after meeting her at a Planada health clinic.
Pazin said the couple has confessed to the crimes against them and gave a “chilling account” of their activities after their arrest Wednesday at their Market Street home in Planada.
According to the sheriff’s department’s investigators, the couple were loosely acquainted with DeCeja, but didn’t really strike up a friendship with her until running into her at a health clinic, just a couple of days prior to her murder. Pazin said it was at this meeting that the couple started to conspire to kill the new mother and take her son.
DeCeja was last seen the morning of Dec. 2 when she was headed to the clinic. Pazin said the couple created a ruse to lure DeCeja to their house and when she arrived she was immediately attacked and strangled by Velarde. The sheriff would not elaborate on the ploy the couple used to get DeCeja to their home.
The couple then drove the dead woman to an orchard in Snelling where they dumped her body and set it on fire. The remains were found Dec. 2, but were so badly burned that detectives had to wait several days before obtaining a positive identification from dental records.
DeCeja’s vehicle was found a few miles from the Snelling orchard and the car seat was missing. The car seat was found the next day by a creek in Merced.
After killing DeCeja and dumping her body, the couple returned to their home with the infant. They told their children — ages 13, 11, and 8 — that Robles had given birth to a new baby and started calling him Jose Jr., after the man who had just killed his mother, Pazin said.
As the media attention grew and the search for the infant intensified, the couple began to panic and decided to abandon their plan of keeping the baby.
The baby was left naked on a doorstep in Le Grand on Dec. 7. The sheriff said the baby’s core temperature had dropped to 86 degrees and almost died from exposure.
“This is just a case of callous disregard for human life, what these two did,” Pazin said. They had developed a plan, schemed and designed to kill the mother, to steal a baby and then when the plot began to unravel, thanks to the media attention and the good work of our investigators over here, nearly left the infant to die.”
The couple allegedly told their children that the baby was ill and was at a Fresno hospital with the intention of telling them later that the baby died.
The couple’s children are now in the custody of Child Protective Services.
During the investigation the sheriff’s department released a statement that a witness had come forward to say they were approached by a couple in Merced trying to sell a baby. At Thursday’s press conference Pazin said in fact, it was the couple who tried to hire people to steal a baby and that it happened prior to DeCeja’s murder.
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