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Reliving Desarie’s final moments

Crime: Murder trial of Antonio Rodriguez recounts gruesome details in death of 5-year-old Castaic gi

Posted: June 23, 2010 9:44 p.m.
Updated: June 23, 2010 4:30 a.m.

SAN FERNANDO — Two Castaic women described in court Wednesday what happened the day a lifeless, naked young girl ended up on their quiet suburban street.

Their testimony at the murder trial of Antonio Rodriguez, 29, accused of raping 5-year-old Desarie Elizabeth Saravia, then viciously beating her to death, was the only departure from medical evidence listing scores of horrific injuries suffered by the “malnourished” girl who was whipped, battered and burned.

Karen Hanna told a jury before Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen in San Fernando Superior Court how, on Nov. 12, 2004, she watched paramedics try to save the little girl’s life on the front lawn of her Sturbridge Drive home.

“I heard a lot of commotion on our street. I observed firetrucks and my friend said, ‘They’re going to your house.’

“So we went down the street to check it out,” Hanna said.

“I saw paramedics working on a young girl on my front lawn.”

Prosecutor Mary Sedgwick asked Hanna: “What did she look like?”

“Lifeless,” Hanna said.

“Was she naked?” Sedgwick asked.

“Yes,” Hanna replied.

The remainder of Wednesday’s testimony addressed, in graphic detail and with more than 50 photos, the extent of Desarie Saravia’s injuries at the time of her death.

Sedgwick showed Hanna a photograph of a man and asked her if she recognized him.

Hanna leaned forward in the witness box, peered around the corner of the judge’s bench and pointed to the defendant.

In 2004, Hanna said, she saw him pacing on the sidewalk by her home while paramedics struggled to breathe life into the young girl. He had a shaved head with the letters “ph” tattooed on the back of his head, she said.

On Wednesday, she told Sedgwick, the same man, now with short-cut black hair, was in court wearing a black suit jacket. She pointed to Rodriguez.

Antonio Rodriguez is charged with rape, murder, torture, forcing a lewd act on a child, causing great bodily injury on a child resulting in the child’s death and willfully permitting a child to suffer.

The child’s mother, Debby Saravia, is also in custody and will be tried separately in her daughter’s death.

Debby Saravia and her boyfriend, Rodriguez, were bouncing around between the homes of friends and relatives at the time of Desarie’s death. Debby Saravia was reportedly working as a house cleaner on the day Desarie was killed.

‘Kept saying her
daughter was dead’
The accused man whispered into the ear of his lawyer, Jack R. Stone, periodically as photos of savage injury were shown to the jury. He shifted only slightly in his chair, sinking at times into the stiff collar of his oversized black jacket.

Patricia Kaiser, Hanna’s friend and neighbor on Sturbridge Drive, described how she drove the girl’s mother, Debby Saravia, to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.

“We got in the car, and I followed the ambulance to the hospital,” Kaiser testified. “She (Debby Saravia) asked for a cell phone and made more than one call. She would talk in English and Spanish and she kept saying her daughter was dead.

“She said it so many times it was upsetting,” Kaiser said.

The girl’s mother told Kaiser the girl had suffered an epileptic seizure.

“I asked her to stop saying her child was dead. I said, ‘We don’t know that yet’ and for us to pray.”

When Sedgwick asked Kaiser to describe the young girl motionless on Hanna’s front law, she said she noticed leaves in the girl’s hair.

Kaiser explained, under questioning, that the leaves were from no tree in the Hanna yard and identified them as the same type of leaves on trees in Hasley Canyon Park, just two blocks away.

Killing allegedly occurred at park
Prosecutors are expected to argue that Rodriguez took Desarie Saravia and her brother Brian to Hasley Canyon Park and that Rodriguez then raped and savagely beat Desarie in the women’s bathroom there.

Sedgwick spent most of Wednesday entering more than 50 photographs into evidence that showed injuries to the bodies of both children.

Dr. James Ribe, senior deputy medical examiner with the county Coroner’s Office, performed the autopsy on the girl’s body. He used  a pointer to explain autopsy photographs projected inside the courtroom, showing the jury each of the injuries suffered by the girl.

Desarie Saravia suffered injuries from the top of her head, where Ribe said she had been “hurled against a wall,” to the bottoms of her feet, where she suffered second-degree burns inflicted with an object larger than a cigarette.

Three toes on her right foot were burned.

“Some kind of hot thing was held against those toes,” he said.

As well, the girl showed “loop marks” on her body and on her knees that indicated she had been whipped with an object similar to an electric cord, he explained.

The jury was also shown photographs of her legs that exhibited at least four cigarette burns — injuries inflicted while the child’s legs were held down so that she could not move, Ribe said.

“The legs were not moving when the burns were inflicted,” he said.

The girl also had injuries consistent with having been hit with a blunt force object and also had her front tooth knocked out.

The trial continues today.


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