A jury deliberated for 10 hours, on Friday, before reaching a verdict in the case of a Weslaco woman accused of killing her newborn son.
Sandy Hernandez, 24, was charged with capital murder and serious bodily injury to a child under 10 years of age.
The jury, however, found her guilty of a lesser charge, manslaughter, and guilty on the latter charge, as well.
Hernandez’s family were the only ones left in the 139th state district courtroom when the verdict was reached, with the exception of the baby’s alleged father, Joel Jimenez. The defendant’s family broke down in tears, as they hugged her for the last time before she was taken into custody.
Sheriff’s deputies escorted the 24-year-old out of the courtroom shortly after the verdict, and she’s currently being detained at the Hidalgo County jail pending her punishment hearing.
The punishment hearing is set for Monday morning. She’s facing up to 20 years in state prison.
Sandy Hernandez, who was 22 at the time, gave birth to a baby boy in the bedroom of her rural Weslaco home, in the early morning hours of October 17, 2014.
According to the defendant and her family, no one knew she was pregnant, as a result of a cryptic pregnancy.
“We were all in shock. I mean, we never expected a baby,” Hernandez’s father, Leonel, explained to the jury.
But medical records show that the defendant was aware of her pregnancy. In February of 2014, she took at least two pregnancy tests at the UTPA (UTRGV) medical center after skipping two periods, and they both came back positive.
In her defense, Hernandez’s mother testified the defendant released a big blood clot when using the bathroom one day sometime in early March, and the two assumed it was a miscarriage. But the defendant never went to see a doctor after that.
On the last day of the 4-day trial, defense attorney Fernando Mancias showed the jury a picture of Hernandez, that he claimed was taken two months before giving birth. “Very slim, very slender. No indication at all that she was pregnant,” Mancias stated while pointing to the image.
The baby, identified as Julian Jimenez, died of blunt force trauma to the head, according to forensic pathologist, Dr. Norma Jean Farley, who conducted the baby’s autopsy.
State prosecutor, Orlando J. Esquivel, explored the possibility of injuries due to a difficult or breeched birth during the trial.
“This looks more to me [like] a more aggressive slam or a forceful beating on to the head,” Farley explained.
The baby suffered from several injuries, including fractured ribs, bruising on his back, skull fractures and three contusions on the right side of his head. The autopsy also revealed severe hemorrhage and brain swelling underneath the scalp.
On the last day of the trial, the defense brought in pathologist Dr. Carlos Mattioli as a second opinion. But during cross-examinatio, Mattioli testified that although the injuries may have been due to childbirth, it is extremely rare. Mattioli’s testimony was solely based on conclusions made from reviewing investigative reports and he never examined the defendant or the baby.
According to Deputy Joe Black, the first officer on the scene, the defendant alleged she cut the umbilical cord in the kitchen to avoid a mess. After she noticed bleeding, she ran outside to set off a car’s panic alarm to wake her parents, who slept in the room next to hers.
She claimed to have forgotten the keys in the house, and it was during her attempt to run back inside that she fell with the baby in her arms, and fell again inside the house.
But during closing arguments, Esquivel showed crime scene images that contradict the defendant’s story.
“She had already started to bleed out when she was over the by the tree and a little bit past it, and she goes back inside the house. She’s not bleeding inside the house. She’s fine. She’s taking the baby God knows where, wrapped in a towel,” Esquivel told jurors.
When paramedics came, they followed the trail of blood outside where they found the newborn alone on the hood of a truck.
According to witness testimony, the defendant didn’t mention anything about the baby being left outside until paramedics came. Her mother told jurors Hernandez cried hysterically and only kept saying, “My baby, my baby,” but wasn’t making much sense.
Hernandez was convicted of manslaughter and serious bodily injury to a child.