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Retrial of mother charged with daughter's death under way

By Krystal Klei, Reporter
Published On: Oct 09 2012 04:19:41 PM CDT
Updated On: Jan 14 2014 06:21:33 PM CST
EL PASO, Texas -

The retrial of Yara Perez started Tuesday morning.

The case was originally declared a mistrial in June when a juror told other jurors something they had overheard from bailiffs talking about case.

Perez has been charged with capital murder and injury to a child in the 2007 death of her 3-year-old daughter Jacqueline Gonzalez. She has pleaded not guilty.

Testimony began with two officers who responded to the scene on Nov. 19, 2007 after receiving a call from Abigail Castaneda. She is the sister of Francisco Castaneda-- the man found guilty of Jacqueline Gonzalez's murder in 2010. Perez and Francisco were dating at the time.

On Tuesday, prosecution described how officers attempted to enter Perez's apartment after receiving a disturbance call from Abigail Castaneda, where she indicated a baby may have been in trouble.

Officers had to kick down the door after no one answered door.

Officers explained on the stand that Francisco and Perez couldn't locate the little girl and her body was found after officers searched the couple's car.

The body was found in a bin in the trunk.

Emotions ran high as Perez clutched a tissue listening to testimony. She appeared to be holding back tears for much of the morning.

Abigail, however, didn't hold her tears back when she took the stand.

Abigail explained that she first made contact with Yara Perez when she called the apartment to check and see if her brother had taken her shoelaces. She said she needed them for work.

According to Abigail, Perez answered and said her brother could not come to the phone.

Later that day, Abigail said she received a call from Perez.

"All I could hear was crying, 'I'm going to kill myself, the baby is not breathing,'" Abigail recalled the phone call.

Abigail said Perez told her Jackie had fallen from the balcony, then changed her story to falling from the bed.

The call was disconnected, and Abigail made multiple attempts to contact Perez. She said she wasn't successful.

At that point, Abigail said she left her job to visit the apartment.

Once there, Abigail said Perez answered the door and her brother, Francisco stood in the background. She said Perez only opened the door between 12 and 18 inches.

According to Abigail, the little girl was lying on the ground half covered in a blanket.

She said Perez and Francisco were crying, and that Jackie appeared to be unconscious.

Abigail said she was then shut out of the apartment, and she drove back to work.

In a series of phone calls with Perez following the visit, Abigail said she was given conflicting information.

She claimed Perez told her both an ambulance came and checked on Jackie, and that Jackie was still not breathing. That Perez was still suicidal.

Abigail said she didn't know what to believe, and finally contacted police.

Toward the end of Abigail's testimony, a tense moment occurred.

Defense Attorney Joe Spencer asked Abigail, "Did you do anything to help your brother put that baby in the car?"

After a pause and look of shock, Abigail responded, "No ... You and your client are sick."

The response lead to a brief recess, and ultimately the jury was told to disregard her statement.

The day continued with testimony from a firefighter and EMT who responded to the scene, followed by a detective with the El Paso Police Department.

According to the firefighter, Perez tried to pass her older daughter off as Jackie when he came to check on the welfare of her children.

He said Jackie was found shortly after.

According to the fire official, Francisco Carranco, Jackie had no pulse, her skin was yellowish, her eyes were glazed, she was cold to the touch, and rigor mortis had begun. She was determined "dead on scene."

Following Carranco, Detective Joe Ochoa described the apparent injuries of Jackie as the prosecution showed multiple photographs of Jackie's bruised body.

Perez went from sobbing to somber as she looked away from the photos. She never looked back at them.

The photographs displayed bruises to much of Jackie's body, with the emphasis on her abdomen. Ochoa explained the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the abdomen.

Ochoa then described the apartment as messy, and said bottles of rubbing alcohol were laying in the living room.

He added that evidence indicated a young girl may have recently taken a shower.

Defense took a hit at the prosecution's witness when they asked Ochoa whether prints were located on the bin where Jackie's body was found.

Ochoa told the jury prints were found, but only those of Francisco Castaneda.

The defense stated in opening statements Perez suffers from battered woman's syndrome and said they plan to show Perez wasn't aware where her baby was when police made contact. They said all guilt lies solely on Francisco.

The defense team said Tuesday that truth had been uncovered, but more would be brought to light Wednesday.

Wednesday the trial will enter its second day, and prosecution will continue to bring forth evidence and witnesses.

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