Mother: Homicide defendant wanted more kids

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 4, 2013 

— The mother of Maria Teresa Ceja Robles, a woman accused of murder and kidnapping, took the stand Thursday at her daughter's homicide trial.

Ceja Robles and defendant Jose Augustine Velarde are accused of killing Ana Lila Diaz DeCeja, on Dec. 2, 2010, and kidnapping her 2-month-old son, Anthony Ceja.

Prosecutors believe the couple carried out a plot to kill DeCeja because they desired a son and wanted to raise the victim's baby as their own.

DeCeja's body, which was burned beyond recognition, was found in an orchard near Snelling. Her baby was found alive on the doorstep of a Le Grand home.

Deputy Public Defender Sean Howard, who represents Velarde, called Ceja Robles' mother, Maria Ceja, as a witness. On the stand, she recalled a trip to a Fresno fertility clinic with her daughter because she "wanted them to put babies in her."

Ceja, who testified she was in Mexico for part of 2010, said she believed her daughter was pregnant before she left. She said her daughter, a mother of three, had her "tubes tied" in a surgery but wanted to have more kids.

Ceja testified her daughter changed after beginning a relationship with Velarde. "She hardly visited me anymore," said Ceja through a translator. "Before, she would take me out to eat and was loving with her brothers."

Prosecutors said they believe the couple lured DeCeja to their Planada home at 85 Market St. under the guise of looking at knitted scarves. Ceja Robles, who told detectives that Velarde strangled the victim, used her friendship to gain DeCeja's trust.

Velarde's attorney, Howard, called on several Merced County Sheriff-Corrections Department deputies Thursday to recall a night in December 2012 when Ceja Robles got violent during a trip to the doctor.

Deputy Alfredo Armenta testified that he took Ceja Robles to Mercy Medical Center, where she attacked him and nearly overpowered him — requiring the assistance of seven staff members.

Armenta said Ceja Robles told him that if he didn't release her by 3:15 a.m, she would leave on her own. "If I didn't release her, she said the devil was going to come deal with me," he added.

Ceja Robles was able to remove Armenta's baton from his holster during the attack, he said, but his gun was on the other side because he's left-handed.

"A lot of her statements were incoherent, and I was trying to make sure she didn't get off the bed," Armenta said.

After wrestling for about half an hour, Ceja Robles was subdued using padded restraints.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II said the prosecution has rested its case against both defendants.

Howard maintains his client, Velarde, is innocent and did not kill DeCeja.

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

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

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or

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