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Year in Review: Murder trial rivets SCV

Saga of girl’s tragic death in Castaic played out in the courtroom during 2010

Posted: December 20, 2010 10:22 p.m.
Updated: December 21, 2010 4:55 a.m.

 

Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series on major Santa Clarita Valley stories of 2010.

She wasn’t from here.

She didn’t go to school here.

But the brief, tragic life of 5-year-old Desarie Elizabeth Saravia touched an entire community this past summer when her killer finally went to trial.

On November 12, 2004, when Sturbridge Drive residents discovered the girl’s battered, naked body laying lifeless on the sidewalk of their cul-de-sac in Castaic, the man who put her there was immediately suspect.

It would take six years, however, for 29-year-old Antonio Rodriguez to stand trial for her rape and murder in San Fernando Superior Court.

The trial began in June and lasted all summer with almost daily court accounts of torture and violence.

On Sept. 2, Rodriguez was sentenced to death for Desarie Saravia’s rape and murder.

When it was all over, prosecutor Mary Sedgwick said: “She was only 5 years old; she never had a chance.”

A tortured life
Santa Clarita Valley residents learned in graphic detail, day after day, how Desarie Saravia had been beaten, whipped and burned.

Prosecutors showed the jury scores of horrific photographs depicting the injuries she had suffered.

On one of the days, early in the trial in San Fernando, they entered more than 50 photographs into evidence that showed injuries to the bodies of Desarie and her older brother, Brian.

By the time prosecutors wrapped up their case, more than 100 photographs of injuries were submitted as exhibits.

Antonio Rodriguez, identified as the boyfriend of the girl’s mother, was 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 court learned that on the day the girl died, Rodriguez took Desarie and Brian to Hasley Canyon Park. There, Rodriguez raped and savagely beat his girlfriend’s daughter in the women’s bathroom.

Medical experts testified for weeks explaining the photographed injuries as evidence of torture and abuse.

One of those experts was Dr. James Ribe, senior deputy medical examiner with the county Coroner’s Office, who 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 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 told the jury.

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 electrical 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 object; one of her front teeth had been knocked out.

Cause of death
In the end, Desarie Saravia died as a result of multiple blunt-force trauma at the hands of another person, Ribe said.

“There was tremendous force used,” he told the jury.

Specifically, he said, the young girl — who was determined to have been malnourished and underdeveloped — died when a severe blow to her abdomen caused her small intestine to rip away from the inside of her body.

“To me, it’s more likely through kicking than punching,” Ribe said.

When it came time for defense lawyers to present their case, they argued Rodriguez cared for the girl.

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

On July 8, jurors convicted Rodriguez of murder, torture and six other counts. He was acquitted on two charges.

Before he was sentenced, defense lawyers called on a neuropsychologist who testified Rodriguez doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions and cannot formulate plans any better than a child.

Dr. Kyle Boone testified Rodriguez suffered brain damage caused by getting hit in the head with a brick and a tire iron in 2001.

As a result of “dysfunction in his frontal lobes,” she said, Rodriguez lacks the ability to understand the consequences of his actions and often acts on impulse.

As the summer came to a close, so did the trial and so did the killer’s fate.

On Sept. 2, Rodriguez was sentenced to death.

Part two of the same tragic story is expected to get under way in the new year when Debby Saravia, the girl’s mother, is expected to stand trial.

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