Claims of abuse, trauma: Planada woman takes stand in her murder, kidnap trial

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 4, 2013 

— Faking a pregnancy using pillows and being drugged against her will: Those were just two of the many claims made by Maria Teresa Ceja Robles, the Planada woman accused of murder and kidnapping, during her testimony in court Friday.

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.

Under questioning by her attorney, Jeffrey Tenenbaum, Ceja Robles described a volatile relationship with then-boyfriend Velarde, whom she said desperately wanted to have a son by her.

"He would always tell me he wanted to have a child with me — a boy," said Ceja Robles through a translator. "He kept insisting that I would give him a son."

Before speaking about her relationship with Velarde, Ceja Robles recalled her traumatic past, which she claimed included molestation by an older cousin, rape by a former landlord and two abusive marriages.

"Sometimes he didn't have enough money to buy drugs, and he'd get angry at me," Ceja Robles said of her first husband, who she said kicked her, pulled her hair and threatened her with a rifle.

Ceja Robles said she suffered a miscarriage in 1998 as a result of the physical abuse. "He kicked me very hard in the stomach," she said.

After her first marriage ended, Ceja Robles said she met and married another abusive man, but she ended that relationship within months.

Then, Ceja Robles met Velarde in 2008 and moved in with him.

Velarde, she testified, was selling drugs and put methamphetamine in her drink after the couple celebrated her birthday in May 2009.

"After I had that drink, I felt very strange," said Ceja Robles, who claimed she began using the drug regularly after that night. "I was already addicted. Every day, I started taking more and more drugs."

Violent fantasies

Ceja Robles said Velarde got very violent, especially during sexual activities, which included bestiality and fantasies about rape.

Then Velarde began demanding a son, she testified. Ceja Robles said her tubes were tied after her third child, so she went to a Fresno fertility clinic to see what could be done. The fertility treatment would cost $15,000, which Ceja Robles said she didn't have.

It was Velarde's desire to have a son that prompted her to fake a pregnancy, which Ceja Robles did using pillows and sonogram images from one of her other children. "He wanted my family to believe I was pregnant," she said.

Ceja Robles said Velarde admitted to having an affair with a married woman, who was pregnant with a boy. He said she would give them her baby.

When she wanted to stop pretending she was pregnant, she testified that Velarde said he'd rape her 10-year-old daughter.

Ceja Robles recalled meeting victim DeCeja when her mother-in-law was a neighbor at the Planada farm labor camp where she stayed.

She said DeCeja's child would play with her youngest son, and that they would occasionally say hello to each other.

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.

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.

Testimony by Ceja Robles is scheduled to continue Monday.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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