Defendant gets new lawyer in chained-girl case appeal — (Express-News)

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By Bonnie Pfister, Express-News Border Bureau

Nov 27, 2001

LAREDO The Laredo housewife facing 99 years in jail for chaining and physically abusing a pre-teen Mexican girl got a new lawyer Monday, setting the stage for a possible impaired-reasoning plea on appeal.
State District Judge Manuel Flores granted Sandra Bearden’s motion, appointing lawyer Oscar Peña Sr. to represent the indigent woman.    Peña will guide Bearden’s attempt to revisit her Oct. 18 conviction on seven felony counts of child injury, abandonment and kidnapping. He did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Police on May 12 rescued the then-12-year-old girl, brought illegally from Mexico to work as a babysitter and housekeeper for Bearden.   Following a neighbor’s 911 call, authorities found the emaciated child bound hand and foot with steel chains and padlocks in Bearden’s walled backyard in a middle-class east Laredo subdivision. The girl was dehydrated and nearly starved, her face and body pocked with cuts, scars and Mace residue.

Bearden admitted on the stand that she chained the child but said it was only to prevent her from running away after the two argued. Bearden alleged they sparred after she caught the hired girl sexually abusing her 4-year-old son.   Lorraine Laurel, Bearden’s public defender at trial, said those allegations got short shrift at trial.

Laurel said her client informed her only on Oct. 5 that she’d been sexually and physically abused by her own father, and that she had been taking the anti-depressant Paxil.
That prescription drug has been cited as the cause of violent behavior in other criminal cases, and may have been linked to her client’s actions, Laurel said.  “Whether (the sexual abuse of Bearden’s son) happened or not, it’s what Sandra thought happened,” Laurel said Tuesday. “It could have triggered post-traumatic stress, given the history of the abuse Sandra suffered from her father.”

Laurel said she expects Peña to pursue something akin to the insanity plea she attempted just days before Bearden’s trial. Judge Flores rejected that plea, saying it came too late.
The victim, identified only as S.A.D. because of her age, remains in Laredo at an undisclosed private residence with her parents and three younger brothers, who joined her after her rescue.

Mexican Consul Daniel Hernández Joseph said Tuesday the family likely would return to their home in rural Veracruz in the next several days or weeks.  S.A.D.’s father testified he allowed his only daughter to come to the United States with Bearden because of promises that she would be educated and cared for.

In his tiny village, even jobs for able-bodied adults are scarce, and one of his sons suffers from a recurring lung ailment, the father said.  That boy contracted pneumonia in Laredo as the trial concluded, which has further delayed the family’s return home, Hernandez said.  A fund for S.A.D. has been set up at Laredo National Bank in the name of “Niña Mexicana,” or Mexican Girl. The account is No. 2195147.