Put in her crib and shut away in a room with cats for three days, 2-year-old Stephanie Torres died a slow death from dehydration and malnutrition while her mother camped out on a couch in the living room with a case of PediaSure sitting untouched feet away from her in the kitchen.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office is presenting a jury with this image of willful neglect and indifference as they seek a guilty verdict against Brandy Rose Lee Devine for murder in the death of her daughter.
The defense says Devine was a woman overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for four young children on her own after her boyfriend was deported and that she was felled by an illness over those three days that left her unable to care for Stephanie. The defense also believes Stephanie’s cerebral palsy was a contributing factor in her death.
“She didn’t murder her daughter. She loved her daughter,” Marcus Mumford, Devine’s public defender told the jury Monday during opening statements.
Devine, 26, is facing a charge of murder, felony willful cruelty to a child and a misdemeanor charge of being under the influence of a controlled substance.
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, according to the prosecution.
The prosecution began their case against Devine on Monday by calling to the stand several of her duplex neighbors from the 1119 N. Denair residence.
Husband and wife Carlton and Lydia Whitworth and neighbor Elena Salazar all testified that in the months after Devine’s boyfriend was deported to Mexico they saw a marked decline of Devine’s oldest daughters — a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old — and that they rarely ever saw 2-year-old Stephanie or Devine’s youngest, a 7-month-old boy.
Lydia Whitworth testified that the two older girls almost always were bedraggled and barefoot and asking for food. She said the one time she let her granddaughter play at Devine’s home she came back “smelling like a barn.”
The Whitworths both testified that they saw multiple vehicles coming to Devine’s home at all times of the day and night and that they never stayed very long. They also said they saw several different men coming and going from the home.
Lydia Whitworth was one of the first people to rush to Devine’s aid on the afternoon of July 16, 2012, when she burst from her home screaming, “My baby! My baby! Something has happened to my baby! Call 911!”
Lydia Whitworth testified that she ran into the house and into a bedroom, where she was immediately overwhelmed by a strong stench of urine and feces. She testified she could see Stephanie laying in the crib and knew instinctually she was dead.
“There was nothing to do,” Lydia Whitworth said. “She was so gray.”
Turlock Police Detective Amy Beebe was the first law enforcement to arrive at the scene and she tried to resuscitate the child for about 30 seconds before deciding her efforts were futile.
“It was fairly clear that she was dead,” Beebe testified.
Medical examiner Dr. Eugene Carpenter testified Tuesday that Stephanie showed several signs of acute dehydration and malnutrition, including a pronounced rib cage and spine, lips that were crusty and peeling, and an abdomen that looked “like a hollowed out ship.”
Carpenter said Stephanie weighed around 17 pounds at her last doctor’s visit in April and that she was between 13 and 14 pounds at the time of her death. Carpenter testified that Stephanie had signs of a failure to thrive that could have existed weeks to months prior to her death.
Under cross examination by Mumford, Carpenter stated the cerebral palsy and Stephanie’s premature birth could have been contributing factors in her low weight and slow grow rate.
The medical examiner was not able to pinpoint an exact time of death, but said it had to have happened sometime soon before she was discovered because the body did not show many signs of decomposition.
During testimony presented on Tuesday, the prosecution introduced into evidence the video recording of Devine being interviewed by Turlock Police Detective Justin Williamson — about an hour after her daughter was found dead. In the interview Devine says she was feeding her infant son, but that she assumed her 6-year-old daughter was looking in on Stephanie.
“I don’t know why I didn’t just do it myself,” Devine told the detective. “That’s not her job.”
In the interview she said she had been texting and phoning friends over the three days and that on Sunday night she had a male friend come over with methamphetamine that she used.
“I only took one hit and then I went to bed because it wasn’t doing anything for me,” Devine said in her interview.
A criminalist from the Department of Justice testified Devine’s blood had tested positive for methamphetamine.
The prosecution will continue showing the video recording when testimony resumes today.