A Stanislaus County jury needed only about 45 minutes to find Brandy Lee Rose Devine guilty of killing her 2-year-old daughter Stephanie Torres.
The jury returned guilty verdicts against Devine for second-degree murder, a felony charge of willful cruelty to a child causing great bodily injury and/or death, and a misdemeanor charge of using a controlled substance. The verdicts leave Devine facing a prison term of 15 years to life, said Deputy District Attorney John Mayne.
In his closing argument to the jury of six men and six women, Mayne implored them to find Devine guilty of murder based on her willful neglect of her special needs daughter.
“She was imprisoned in that room until she died,” Mayne said of Stephanie’s last couple of days alive. “She (Devine) said she went to the bathroom six or seven times that weekend. That bathroom was right next to Stephanie. She was right there and she never opened the door.
Stephanie was put into her crib on the afternoon of July 13, 2012, and was found dead on the afternoon of July 16, 2012. During that time she was kept in a filthy room with several cats and was not given any food or water.
Medical examiner Dr. Eugene Carpenter testified Tuesday that Stephanie died of acute dehydration and malnutrition.
During her interview with police detectives, Devine said she was feeling ill that weekend and didn’t really know why she never checked on Stephanie, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She said she thought her oldest daughter, who was 6 years at the time, was taking care of the 2-year-old. She also admitted that she smoked methamphetamine Sunday night, prior to Stephanie’s body being found.
“These are not reasons to let your child die,” Mayne told the jury.
In the same interview Devine initially refused to believe Stephanie died from lack of food and water and tried to tell the detective she was probably suffocated by the cats — an excuse Mayne made sure to address with the jury.
“She’s trying to pin it on the cats,” Mayne said. “Her story doesn’t make any sense.
“She put that child in the room to die,” Mayne told the jury.
The defense relied largely on testimony from Devine’s mother and sister as to her parenting traits.
Shandra Gomes, Devine’s mother, testified that when Devine was placed on bed rest early in her last pregnancy, she took over the primary caregiver responsibilities of Devine’s eldest daughter.
In April, Devine’s sister, Angel Devine, started caring for Stephanie on the weekdays and returning her to Devine on the weekends.
Both arrangements for the two children lasted until the first of July 2012, when Gomes and Angel Devine went to Montana for a vacation.
Gomes testified that prior to their trip to Montana she asked Devine’s father to help her out with groceries and the kids, but she said in court that help was never given.
Angel Devine testified that Stephanie was always small, given her diagnosis and that she was born premature. She said she was a picky eater. But that she did have a few favorite foods that she would devour, including oatmeal and PediaSure.
“She could drink that all day,” Angel Devine said of the PediaSure.
There was a case of unopened PediaSure in Devine’s kitchen.
Gomes testified that she knew her daughter had a history of drug use and had tested positive for methamphetamine when her now 4-year-old daughter was born. She said Devine had told her she had quit about a month prior to Stephanie’s death.
Devine admitted to the detective that she used methamphetamine the night before Stephanie was found.
Public Defender Marcus Mumford told the jury they were not contesting count two and three, but did want them to come back with a guilty verdict on the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
“She didn’t know her actions would cause the death of her child,” Mumford told the jury in his closing statement. “The reality in this world is that children go without food and water all the time.”
Devine will return to court Dec. 13 for a sentencing hearing.