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Family testifies accused was father figure

Defense begins case by painting Rodriguez as provider for 5-year-old girl he is charged with killing

Posted: June 29, 2010 8:45 p.m.
Updated: June 30, 2010 4:30 a.m.
 

SAN FERNANDO — Antonio Rodriguez, who is accused of beating to death his girlfriend’s daughter, was a caring father figure who took the child and her brother to his mother’s house every day to feed them, according to testimony offered in court Tuesday.

Through an interpreter, Juana Rodriguez, the mother of the accused man, said her son brought 5-year-old Desarie Saravia and her brother, Brian, to her house every day, seven days a week, where they were given breakfast, lunch and supper.

Prosecutor Mary Sedgwick asked her if she ever saw bruises on Desarie.

“Only one, on the neck,” she said.

Louisana Rodriguez, the accused’s sister, said she saw Desarie being hit by her mother, Debby Saravia.

“I was coming towards Desarie, and I just saw her (Debby) smack her hand across her back,” she said.

The testimony was offered during the first day of defense attorney Jack R. Stone’s case. Stone is representing Rodriguez, 29, on murder and torture charges in the death of Desarie Saravia.

The child was pronounced dead Nov. 12, 2004, at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. An emergency room physician noted she was malnourished, underfed, under-developed, with a “distended abdomen” and signs of having severe diarrhea.

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The little girl weighed 48 pounds at 5 years old, still wore a diaper and exhibited head-to-toe injuries consistent with having been battered, burned and whipped.

Debby Saravia remains in custody, and is scheduled to be tried separately in her daughter’s death.

She and her boyfriend, Rodriguez, were bouncing around between the homes of friends and relatives at the time of Desarie’s death.

Other testimony offered by defense witnesses focused on whether Desarie Saravia was sexually assualted while in the custody of Debby Saravia and Rodriguez, as the prosecution has alleged.

The 5-year-old girl beaten to death in a Castaic park bathroom six years ago may not have been sexually abused, according to two women considered experts in assessing sexual assault injuries in children.

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The women, who together have testified at more than 150 trials involving child sexual-assault victims, testified Tuesday that forensic and medical evidence presented in the case does not with “certainty” show the little girl had been sexually assaulted.

Stone asked Cari Caruso: “Can you form an opinion as to whether Desarie was sexually abused?”

“No,” she said without hesitation, “because I don’t have the evidence there to show there was sexual abuse.”

Caruso, who with 36 years experience as a nurse started her own medical evidence-gathering company three years ago, said she’s testified at about 100 trials for both prosecutors and defense lawyers equally.

Dr. Carol Berkowitz, executive vice chairwoman in the Department of Pediatrics at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, said examiners should not interpret anal dilatation as proof of anal penetration.

It was also revealed in court that the girl’s hymen was intact and, according to prior testimony, no semen was found on any part of her body.

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