Murder defendant testifies: 'I didn't do it'

Planada woman insists boyfriend strangled victim

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 10, 2013 

— Vain, jealous and out of control.

That's the picture an attorney painted Thursday of Maria Teresa Ceja Robles, the Planada woman facing life behind bars. She is accused of killing another woman and stealing her baby.

"You were jealous of Ana DeCeja (the victim)," said Deputy Public Defender Sean Howard, who represents Ceja Robles' then-boyfriend and co-defendant, Jose Augustine Velarde. "She was a lot younger than you, prettier than you, and she was pregnant at a time you wanted a baby."

Howard went on to describe what he believes led to the slaying of Ana Lila Diaz DeCeja on Dec. 2, 2010.

"You took Ana to the bedroom from the living room to show her pictures," he said. "You attacked her. You strangled her and choked her until she died."

After five consecutive days of testimony, Ceja Robles raised her voice and showed emotion. "No, I didn't do that. It was him who sits there," she insisted, speaking through a translator, and pointing a finger at Velarde.

"The murderer is right there. Look at him," Ceja Robles said. "He did it. He told me he did it."

Howard said Ceja Robles killed the victim, then went into the bathroom. He said Velarde came home to find the victim on the floor and began checking her pulse. He said Ceja Robles told him not to call an ambulance because she was dead.

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. They are accused of luring the victim to their Planada home under the guise of looking at knitted scarves.

Prosecutors say Ceja Robles, who told detectives that Velarde strangled the victim, used her friendship to gain DeCeja's trust. She has testified that Velarde got her hooked on methamphetamine, even forcing her to endure sexual and physical abuse.

Ceja Robles claimed the victim scratched Velarde on the right side of his face, but photos taken during questioning 13 days later revealed no scratches.

Although Ceja Robles said the victim was looking at the scarves, Howard said investigators did not find any scarves, knitting yarn or needles in the home following her arrest.

Earlier this week, Howard revealed that Ceja Robles had gotten pregnant in 2007; she said she had a tubal ligation in 2004. It's unclear what happened to the baby.

The testimony Thursday came to a boil when Howard said Ceja Robles was taking the questions about DeCeja's death as a joke.

"I'm starting to find it very disturbing that you're smiling and joking five minutes after you denied killing that man's wife," Howard said. "Why are you not crying? Why are you not sorrowful about these questions I'm asking?"

"Because I know I didn't do it," Ceja Robles said. "I don't feel guilty because I never killed anyone."

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

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