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Mom pleads guilty to 3rd-degree murder in tot’s death

Posted on: November 4, 2009

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Mom pleads guilty to 3rd-degree murder in tot’s death

ELIZABETH EVANS — The York Dispatch

Updated: 10/28/2009 01:53:18 PM EDT

After pleading guilty to murder for doing nothing to save her 2-year-old daughter from being beaten to death, a handcuffed Neida Baez cried quietly as she was hugged by her own mother.Sheriff’s deputies allowed Margarita Torres to approach Baez briefly at the end of Tuesday’s hearing. After hugging her daughter, Torres held Baez’s hands and whispered a few words of comfort.

“She will live with this for the rest of her life,” defense attorney Clasina Mahoney said of Baez.

Mahoney said Baez was also a victim of domestic violence, allegedly at the hands of her ex-boyfriend.

Baez, 21, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in York County Court Tuesday for allowing daughter Darisabel Baez to be beaten to death with a video-game controller.

Senior prosecutor Tim Barker said Baez is guilty because she stood by and did nothing as her then-boyfriend, Harve L. Johnson, inflicted the fatal beating.

Johnson, 28, is charged with first-degree murder and faces the death penalty if convicted. His trial is set to begin Monday with jury selection.

Barker told Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Brillhart on Tuesday that the plea agreement with Baez calls for her to give truthful testimony at Johnson’s trial, in exchange for a five- to 10-year state prison sentence. She would get credit for time served.

As part of the plea, charges of first-degree murder and child endangerment are being dropped.

Barker asked the judge to defer sentencing until after the trial. A date has not yet been set.

Abused for months? The prosecutor said in open court that Darisabel’s abuse “had existed for a period of months” prior to the April 6, 2008, beating, but that Baez did nothing to intervene or ensure the toddler’s safety. As Darisabel’s mother, Baez had “an express duty” to protect her child, Barker said.

Baez admitted on Tuesday that she was present when Darisabel was beaten. But Judge Brillhart did not ask Baez why she did nothing to save her daughter, and Baez didn’t volunteer that information.

Baez has given two recorded statements to investigators about what happened in her home the day Darisabel was assaulted, Barker told the judge, and she successfully completed” a voice-stress analysis test to determine if she was telling the truth.

Brillhart asked Baez whether Darisabel was beaten “rather consistently” over a few-month period, and Baez said yes.

She also said she dropped out of high school in New York after completing 11th grade. After the hearing, Mahoney and co-defense counsel Erinn O’Leary confirmed Baez was in a special-education program throughout her schooling, and that she has mental-health issues.

Plea ‘appropriate’: Mahoney said Baez’s plea agreement is appropriate “because of her youth and her inexperience, and the nature of her relationship with Harve Johnson.”

Barker said he cannot go into details until after Johnson’s trial about why he believes Baez’s plea agreement is a good one, but noted that it holds her accountable for murder despite the fact that she did not participate in the fatal beating.

“Holding defendants accountable for murder in omission-of-care cases has grown over the past few years,” he said. “There was a time when those cases were viewed as involuntary manslaughter or endangering the welfare of a child. That’s changed, and we’ll continue to hold these acts accountable as murder.”

In Pennsylvania, third-degree murder requires malice, in this instance in the form of “extreme indifference to human life,” Barker said.

The background: York City Police have said Johnson badly beat Darisabel for 45 minutes to an hour in their former 710 W. Philadelphia St. home. An angry Johnson beat the child because her soiled diaper “exploded” onto the rug while he was spanking her, according to police.

An autopsy report indicates Darisabel’s wounds were widespread and severe, including injuries to the brain, chest, heart and liver. The report states that “the amount of beating is extensive and indicative of torture.”

Police said Darisabel was “covered with bruises … from head to toe.”

– Reach Elizabeth Evans at levans@yorkdispatch.com, 505-5429 or twitter.com/ydcrimetime.

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