Mom pleads insanity in murder trial — (Santa Cruz Sentinal)

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Santa Cruz Sentinal

October 30, 2004

By CATHY REDFERN, Sentinel staff writer

SANTA CRUZ  –  A former UC Santa Cruz student accused of killing her 4-year-old daughter pleaded innocent by reason of insanity on Thursday and will be examined by court-appointed doctors.

In what attorneys call a complicated case, Yesenia Quevedo, 28, entered her plea nearly a year after her Dec. 13 arrest on suspicion of homicide for the death of her child, Xiomara Tocalino. A psychologist and psychiatrist will report their findings by Jan. 13, said her attorney, Dan Barton of Palo Alto.

Barton declined to comment on Quevedo’s health. She is in the Women’s Detention Facility in Milpitas, he said.

“I’m going to see what the doctors say,” he said. “She has a lot of support from her friends and family who have watched her go through his ordeal. … and I think everyone knows that she was a very caring and devoted mother, and caring devoted mothers who are not mentally ill do not kill their kids.”

Quevedo was an anthropology student living in family student housing on campus with her red-haired little girl when the pair spent the night at Quevedo’s grandmother’s home in San Jose on Dec. 12. They were to celebrate the child’s fourth birthday the following day, but paramedics found the child dead about 6:30 a.m.

According to prosecutors, Quevedo had put her own anti-depressant in a cup of tea she gave her daughter before bed and told officers she “kept (her) beautiful baby from breathing.” Police say she slept beside her daughter that night, “to keep her warm and comfy,” and realized she had stopped breathing about 9:45 p.m.

Two days earlier, Quevedo had been released from in-patient psychiatric care at Stanford Medical Center. Police say she believed “truckers” were following her and wanted to harm her and her daughter. Weeks earlier, she had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder with psychotic tendencies.

Barton said the government must prove a defendant knew what they were doing and knew that it was wrong. Jurors could be the ultimate decision makers, he said, if prosecutors challenge a possible finding that Quevedo was legally insane at the time of her child’s death.

If found not guilty by reason of insanity, she would be involuntarily hospitalized and entitled to be released when found to be no longer a danger to herself or others, he said. That release also could involve a trial.

Prosecutor Dan Nishigaya said such commitment is “potentially for life.” He said the plea was not a surprise.

Police say Quevedo had begun seeing a psychiatrist three months before her arrest and suffered from depression since she started attending UC Santa Cruz in 1999, about six months after the birth of her daughter. She had broken up with Xiomara’s father, Michael Tocalino, about a year earlier.