Sentencing today in mom's murder, kidnapping of baby

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comAugust 18, 2013 

— The couple convicted of killing a Planada woman and kidnapping her 2-month-old baby are scheduled to be sentenced today in Merced County Superior Court.

Jurors in June convicted Maria Teresa Ceja Robles, 34, and Jose Augustine Velarde, 38, in the Dec. 2, 2010, killing of Ana Lila DeCeja, 26. They were tried together, but separate juries were selected to deliberate the cases against each defendant.

Velarde was convicted of second-degree murder, kidnapping and child abuse, which means he faces 32 years to life in prison. Ceja Robles was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping, child endangerment and solicitation to kidnap. She faces life without parole.

Members of the victim's family will be allowed to speak in court and confront Velarde and Ceja Robles during today's hearing.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II and Deputy District Attorney Monika Saini argued that the couple carried out a plot to kill DeCeja because they wanted to raise the victim's son as their own.

Ceja Robles no longer could have children, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors believe in the weeks before the slaying, the couple pretended — for friends and family members — as if Ceja Robles was pregnant. She told her children they soon would have a new baby brother.

Ceja Robles lured the victim to the couple's Market Street home, where Velarde strangled her, prosecutors said, and DeCeja went to the home thinking she was going to look at scarves that Ceja Robles had made.

The victim's burned body was found by farmworkers in an orchard near Snelling. Authorities said the baby, Anthony, later was found after Ceja Robles and Velarde left him on the doorstep of a Le Grand home.

The pair will be sentenced by Judge Brian McCabe.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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