Arrests made in mom's slaying

Planada pair held; woman's body was found in Snelling orchard

December 16, 2010 

SUBMITTED PHOTO Ana Diaz DeCeja and her baby Anthony Ceja are missing.

MERCED SUN-STAR

A husband and wife were arrested Wednesday night in connection with the killing of Ana Lila Diaz DeCeja, whose burned body was found in an orchard northwest of Snelling on Dec. 2, the Merced County Sheriff's Department said.

DeCeja and her 2-month-old son, Anthony Ceja-Diaz, disappeared Dec. 2 from her Planada home in the 1500 block of Plainsburg Road.

Sheriff's deputies arrested Teresa Ceja Robles, 33, and Jose Augustine Velarde, 37, of Planada at their home on Market Street.

More details are scheduled to be released today during a press conference set for 11 a.m. at the sheriff's office.

Deputy Tom MacKenzie, a sheriff's spokesman, said detectives obtained a warrant for Robles. During the investigation, detectives developed enough probable cause to arrest Velarde and charge both with murder, MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie said the suspects are being questioned to determine a motive in DeCeja's killing. At this point, detectives believe she was killed at Robles' home.

It's unknown whether Robles and Velarde are the same couple who is said to have approached a witness Dec. 3 in an attempt to sell a baby.

On Dec. 9, the sheriff's Major Crimes Division said a couple had tried to sell a baby. At the time, they said the case could be tied to DeCeja's and her baby's disappearance.

DeCeja last was seen getting into her blue 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche, neighbors said.

The first clue to a possible baby theft came when a couple walking a path Dec. 3 along Bear Creek and Persons Avenue found a baby's car seat.

Earlier that day, authorities had found the missing Chevrolet Avalanche with the car seat missing. The base still was attached.

The vehicle was found seven miles away from where DeCeja's badly burned body was found Dec. 2.

A witness told detectives that early Dec. 3, near 27th Street and Midge Avenue in Merced, a man and woman carrying a baby in a car seat asked if they "wanted to buy a baby," according to authorities.

The witness's description of the car seat matched the one detectives found.

On Dec. 7, the same day DeCeja's body was identified, an unidentified baby boy was found about 6:30 a.m. in the 4000 block of Fresno Street in Le Grand.

The baby was on the doorstep of a house, wrapped in a blanket. He was taken to Mercy Medical Center where he was treated for exposure.

Although the baby is said to resemble Anthony Ceja-Diaz, his identity hasn't been confirmed by the sheriff. Child Protective Services has custody of the infant.

When DeCeja disappeared, she had told family members she was going to a health clinic, but never returned home. DeCeja's husband reported her missing that night.

The cause of death is expected to be released today during the press conference. MacKenzie said, however, that the autopsy did show there was no indication DeCeja was alive when her body was burned.

"At least she was unresponsive when she was set on fire," he added.

If anyone has any information, call the Merced County Sheriff's Department at (209) 385-7472.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 388-6507, or yamaro@mercedsun-star.com.

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