Couple charged in abuse of girl, 11

Date: 2008-07-29

Couple charged in abuse of girl, 11

July 29, 2008
SUNITA VIJAYAN
The Salinas Californian

Prosecutors on Monday said further investigation is needed to determine whether torture charges are appropriate for a Salinas couple accused of repeatedly beating an 11-year-old girl.

Salinas police said they arrested Maria Quintanilla Cuadra, 33, and her boyfriend, Jose Esteban Guevara, 36, on Friday after learning they had subjected the girl to malnourishment and repeated, daily beatings. The girl also was forced to hold heavy objects over her head for extended periods, and Guevara forced her to eat jalapeños without water, police said.

Cuadra, the girl's aunt, adopted the child after both of her parents died.

The couple, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, were initially booked into Monterey County Jail on suspicion of several crimes - torture being the most serious. Police said they admitted the offenses to officers at the time of their arrest.

Prosecutors said a torture charge is still possible, but more work is needed to determine whether it suits the case. For example, Terry Spitz, the county's chief assistant district attorney, said his office needs to conduct a thorough interview with the victim.

"We're careful of that charge because it's a life term, so we want to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt," Spitz said.

Rolando Mazariegos, a deputy district attorney who handled the couple's arraignment, cited the ongoing investigation in not filing a torture charge.

"It's possible in the future we will, but at this point, we decided to hold off," Mazariegos said. "Charges may be added or dropped as facts come to light."

Prosecutors did file five felony charges against Cuadra, including corporal injury to a child, child endangerment, failure to provide for a child and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. The deadly weapons were a tortilla warmer and an electrical cord, Mazariegos said.

Cuadra, who remains in custody on $100,000 bail, served a prison term for possession of cocaine and burglary in 1999. If convicted, the maximum sentence she could receive is 10 years and six months in prison.

Guevera was charged with corporal injury to a child and failure to provide for a child.

Mazariegos said he faces a maximum sentence of seven years and eight months in prison, if convicted.

Police said the abuse was a form of disciplining the girl. A family member who resides at the home, police said, confirmed the abuse.

Because the girl is a minor, no information on her condition was available Monday.

Sam Trevino, a spokesman for the county Department of Social Services, said the number of calls alleging abuse or neglect by adoptive parents is "very low," averaging two a year.

Generally speaking, Trevino said, the adoption process takes about four months to complete, and applicants are subjected to stringent background checks, including personal references.

He said relatives of a child to be adopted, however, are not required to undergo 24 hours of pre-service training - classes that specialize in life skills and parenting for prospective foster or adoption applicants.

Contact Sunita Vijayan at svijayan@thecalifornian.com.

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