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They called him ‘Daddy’

Rodriguez’ family continues testimony that he cared for murdered girl, deflect spotlight

Posted: June 30, 2010 8:57 p.m.
Updated: July 1, 2010 4:30 a.m.

SAN FERNANDO — Lawyers representing a man accused of beating to death his girlfriend’s 5-year-old daughter wrapped up their case Wednesday with further testimony that he was a caring man whom the little girl called “Daddy.”

Defense attorney Jack R. Stone called his client’s sister to the witness stand Wednesday and asked her to describe the relationship between Desarie Elizabeth Saravia, who died as a result of her injuries on Nov. 12, 2004, and the man accused of killing her.

Antonio Rodriguez, 29, is charged with nine crimes including murder, torture and five crimes specifically against children.

“When they were around him, they called him ‘Daddy,’” said the accused man’s sister, Marina Rodriguez, referring to Desarie Saravia and her brother Brian. “They were close. Desarie would always hold his hand.”

Under questioning, Marina Rodriguez painted a portrait of her brother as a caring man who made sure the children were fed each day and who walked Desarie to school.

“I was leaving my house one day driving up the street when I saw Antonio and Desarie walking to school. I asked them if they wanted a ride, and he said, ‘No, it’s just up the street,’” the sister told a San Fernando Superior Court jury.

She also witnessed Desarie’s mother, Debby Saravia, hurt Desarie, she said.

Stone asked the Rodriguez sister if she ever witnessed Desarie being hit by her mother.

“I wouldn’t say it was a hit. She pinched her on the left arm,” she said.

Stone asked if the girl screamed.

“No. She just said, ‘Ouch,’” Rodriguez said.

Stone asked if the pinch left a mark.

“It turned red right away,” she said.

Much of the defense argument presented over two days dealt with acrylic fingernails observed on the hands of Debby Saravia.

Witnesses on Tuesday and Wednesday described the mother’s nails as an inch long and curled.

Lt. Kent A. Wegener of the Major Crimes Bureau of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department described two photographs entered into evidence as defense exhibits.

He said the “stills” were taken from a videotape recorded inside the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

The two people seen in the photo were described by witnesses Wednesday as Antonio Rodriguez and Debby Saravia.

Stone asked Wegener, who was a detective in 2004, when the video was recorded.

“It is the night and until the next morning following Desarie’s death,” he said.

The first questions asked of Marina Rodriguez were about the fingernails on the hands of Debby Saravia, seen on the video still photographs.

“She always had long acrylic nails,” Rodriguez said.

Jurors heard details Monday about three parallel scratches, identified as having been caused by adult fingernails, which were found near the vaginal area of the dead girl.

Dr. Carol Berkowitz, executive vice chairwoman in the Department of Pediatrics at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, described the scratches as “three little tears, which in my opinion, were caused by fingernails — marks made as if fingernails had intruded on that area.

“They were long marks consistent with adult fingernails,” she said, adding it was unlikely they were self-inflicted. “There was contact of an adult hand on her genital area.”

Prosecutor Mary Sedgwick, during cross-examination, described the acrylic nails as soft and round, to which Marina Rodriguez said: “They’re not soft. I would say they’re hard.”

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.

At one point, in the months leading up to Desarie’s death, the family — Debby Saravia, Rodriguez and the two children — was living in a vacant house next door to the home of Marina Rodriguez, according to Marina.

Antonio Rodriguez is formally charged with murder, torture, allowing a child to suffer, forcing a lewd act on a child and inflicting “inhuman corporal punishment” on a child, as well as two counts of allowing a child to suffer under conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death and two counts of sexually penetrating a person against her will,


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