Testimony: Couple accused in killing had baby items

Killing, kidnapping trial nearing end

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comMay 27, 2013 

After a one week hiatus, testimony resumed Monday in the murder trial of accused killers Maria Teresa Ceja Robles and Jose Augustine Velarde.

The defendants are accused in the murder of Ana Lila Diaz DeCeja, 26, on Dec. 2, 2010, and the kidnapping of her 2-month-old son, Anthony Ceja.

Today jurors are expected to see video interviews conducted between Velarde, 38, and Merced County sheriff's detectives after his arrest.

Jurors on Wednesday heard testimony from Sgt. Buck Ledford, who spoke about items sheriff's detectives seized from the couple's Market Street home in Planada.

The items were taken by deputies after they served a search warrant at the home on Dec. 15, 2010, nearly two weeks after the killing. Many of the items were for an infant, including new clothes, diapers and a baby seat.

They were displayed in a pile in the courtroom.

Earlier in the week, Detective Jason Jacklitsch testified about video surveillance footage deputies obtained of the couple in Wal-Mart the day of the murder, shopping for baby items. Authorities say the footage shows the couple holding a child that prosecutors believe to be DeCeja's baby.

Ledford testified detectives seized various handmade knitted items from the defendants' home. In addition, he spoke about a photograph of the couple inside the home, which appears to show Robles holding her stomach as if she's pregnant.

Under cross-examination from Velarde's attorney, Sean Howard, Ledford testified detectives did not find any methamphetamine, illegal drugs or paraphernalia inside the home.

Jeffrey Tenenbaum, Robles' attorney, asked Ledford whether the carpet inside the house was taken as evidence. Ledford said it was not.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II and Deputy District Attorney Monika Saini have said the couple carried out a plot to kill DeCeja because they wanted to raise the victim's son as their own. Robles could no longer have children, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors believe that in the weeks before the homicide, the couple pretended — for friends and family members — as if Robles was pregnant. She told her children they would soon have a new baby brother.

Authorities say Robles lured the victim to the couple's Market Street home, where Velarde strangled her to death. Prosecutors believe DeCeja went to the home thinking she was going to look at scarves Robles had made.

Robles' attorney, Tenenbaum, claims his client was the victim of abuse and became hooked on methamphetamine at the hands of Velarde, unaware he was going to kill DeCeja.

Howard has maintained his client is innocent and did not kill DeCeja.

Velarde and Robles face charges of murder, kidnapping, child abuse and making a false report to police. If convicted, they both face life in prison.

Prosecutors may wrap up their case by Friday, with defense attorneys opening their case next. Robles is expected to testify in the trial. It is unknown whether Velarde will take the stand.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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