MERCED -- The Planada defendant accused of killing a woman and stealing her infant son recalled the incident in court Monday, while the prosecution had its first crack at questioning her.
Maria Teresa Ceja Robles along with then-boyfriend Jose Augustine Velarde are accused of killing Ana Lila Diaz DeCeja on Dec. 2, 2010, and kidnapping her 2-month-old son, Anthony Ceja.
Ceja Robles testified the victim, DeCeja, came to the couple's home to look at knitted scarves about 8 a.m. the day of the murder. She said Velarde, who admitted to an affair with DeCeja, said to call him when she arrived.
"They were going to talk, and I didn't want to be part of that conversation," Ceja Robles said through a translator. She said Velarde told her DeCeja, who was married, was pregnant with his son.
Ceja Robles said she went to the bathroom inside the master bedroom, and came out to find Velarde on top of DeCeja strangling her.
"I saw Ana, and Augustine was on top of her, doing this," Ceja Robles said, demonstrating the strangulation. "Ana's eyes were open, she was scared."
Ceja Robles said she wanted to call an ambulance, but Velarde told her "it's too late." Ceja Robles said she didn't call police because she was afraid that he would kill her.
"If he had already killed her, he could kill me too," she said.
Next, Ceja Robles described driving Velarde to an almond orchard, where he disposed of DeCeja's body. She denied knowing the victim's body was in the trunk.
She said Velarde told her that he burned DeCeja's body.
After stopping at an Atwater restaurant for a beer, Ceja Robles said, Velarde told her he didn't want to talk about what happened.
The couple then went to Wal-Mart, where they spent more than $100 on a child's car seat and other baby accessories, Ceja Robles said.
But five days later, the infant was dropped off at a Le Grand home, Ceja Robles testified. She said the baby's hair was shaved so he wouldn't be easily recognized, and he was placed inside a pillow case naked.
"Good, because now he would be with his family," Ceja Robles said, when asked how she felt about abandoning the baby.
Ceja Robles admitted lying to detectives about the killing and blaming it on a mutual friend to protect Velarde. "I didn't want him to take all the blame because I loved him," she said.
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.
Yanira Granados, 22, the victim's cousin, sat with the victim's sister, who wept during proceedings Monday. Granados said Ceja Robles' testimony didn't match what she said during a taped confession.
"She said she was there when it (the strangling) was happening and didn't do anything to stop it," Granados said. "To keep up with her alibi, she has to change her story because it doesn't make sense."
Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II pointed out other discrepancies in Ceja Robles' story.
Ceja Robles originally told police that DeCeja slipped on a scarf and fell inside the home, Morse said. She also lied about telling her mother about being molested by a cousin, he added.
During testimony last week, Ceja Robles said her family wasn't welcome inside the couple's home, but later said Velarde asked her to display a photo of her posing with a fake "baby bump" for her family to see.
Ceja Robles testified to being addicted to methamphetamine and losing 40 pounds during her relationship with Velarde.
Morse, however, shared her medical records, which reflected a 19-pound weight gain in three months. "How do you explain your weight was going up at the time you were using (meth) every day?" Morse said.
"You don't know what it's like to be into drugs," Ceja Robles told Morse. "You don't know. It's nothing to laugh about."
"You're taking this as a joke," she said during Morse's cross examination.
"Oh, I'm not taking this as a joke, Ms. Ceja, believe me," Morse responded. "I'm trying to get answers."
Granados said her family also is looking for answers and want justice for DeCeja, who they described as strong-minded and out-going.
"Slowly, but surely, the truth is coming out," Granados said. "Every lie she told is coming out, and it's only a matter of time."
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or email@example.com.