Planada defendant gives her reason for testimony

She's sorry for what happened and wants out of jail some day

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 7, 2013 

Maria Teresa Ceja Robles, the Planada woman accused of murder and kidnapping, told jurors Friday why she chose to take the stand in another day of emotional testimony.

"I'm testifying so that the people can hear me," Ceja Robles said. "I'm testifying so that everyone will know why I did everything. And I hope one day to be released from jail."

Ceja Robles said she wanted people to know "everything" about the drug addiction and domestic violence she endured in 2010.

Ceja Robles and co-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 say the couple 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.

During redirect questioning Friday by her attorney, Jeffrey Tenenbaum, Ceja Robles spoke about how she felt about Ana's death.

"There were questions asked of you yesterday (Thursday), why you're not crying? Why you're not sorry for what happened," Tenenbaum said. "How do you feel about what happened to Ana?"

Ceja Robles answered, "Very sad. I feel sad for her children who need their mother. I feel sad for her family, for her mother, for her brothers and sisters. I've been through that, and I know what it feels like, because my brother was killed."

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II said Velarde was deeply in love with Ceja Robles, who he said controlled and manipulated him.

"You were a very strong personality and manipulating men was what you do," Morse told her.

Morse said Velarde sent more than 70 love letters to Ceja Robles while in jail. One of the letters from April 2011, translated from Spanish, was read to jurors Friday.

"I love you as you cannot even imagine," Velarde said in the letter. "You are my reason to live. When this nightmare comes to an end, I swear to you, to my father, that I will make you the happiest woman in the world."

Addicted to drugs

Earlier in the trial, Ceja Robles testified that she became hooked on methamphetamine at the hands of Velarde and was unaware he was going to kill DeCeja.

But Morse pointed out that none of the letters spoke of the domestic violence and drug use. Ceja Robles said she also didn't tell sheriff's detectives about those things during questioning because "they didn't ask."

Also during Friday's testimony, Ceja Robles admitted to having sex with her Planada landlord twice a month to get a break on her rent. Velarde was unaware of the relationship because they went to a motel, Ceja Robles said.

Ceja Robles' testimony is expected to continue Monday, according to Tenenbaum.

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 rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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