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November 20, 2003

Child endangerment case pushed back

From: Modesto Bee, CA - Nov 20, 2003


MERCED -- A judge Wednesday delayed the arraignment of a woman accused of stuffing toilet tissue down her newborn child's throat.

The delay is until Friday while authorities try to figure out how to communicate with the defendant, who is deaf and mute, and can't read or write.

The Merced County district attorney's office filed charges of felony child endangerment against Juliana Martinez Dionicio, 24, on Wednesday afternoon.

According to Livingston police, Martinez Dionicio crawled into a dog pen near her father's home and gave birth to a girl, then shoved toilet paper down the newborn's throat in an attempt to kill her. Family members say Martinez Dionicio, a native of Oaxaca, Mexico, can't speak, read or write in Spanish or Trique, the language of her indigenous tribe.

At a court appearance Wednesday, Public Defender Wayne Eisenhart told Superior Court Judge Robert Quall that only the woman's family members are able to communicate with her, and the arraignment should be continued so the woman's father could attend.

Livingston police arrested Martinez Dionicio on Sunday on suspicion of attempted murder. Deputy District Attorney Bruce Gilbert, who filed the child endangerment complaint, said an attempted murder charge may be added after medical reports on the baby's injuries become available.

"After the (preliminary hearing), we can either file more serious charges or less serious charges," Gilbert said. But now, "we're definitely going with the felony child endangerment. Even if the child doesn't have any permanent (injuries), it's still child endangerment."

The nonprofit Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center in Merced is trying to bring in a deaf interpreter to help with the proceedings, advocate Terri Welch said. A deaf interpreter uses gestures, rather than sign language, to try to communicate with someone who doesn't know sign language, she said.

"We're trying to make sure that (Martinez Dionicio) has communication of some sort" and can understand the court process, Welch said.

Martinez Dionicio will remain in Merced County's Sandy Mush Adult Correctional Facility in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Family members said the Trique have a simple diet based mostly on corn, and don't regularly eat sugar.

Jail Cmdr. Bill Atkinson said Martinez Dionicio hasn't turned away the jail's food, which is "heavily starch." She seems to be doing well, he said, and is being held in a cell near one of the jail's command centers.

"We are having a difficult time communicating with her," Atkinson admitted, adding that correctional officers will work with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center to ease those difficulties. In addition, a cellmate placed with Martinez Dionicio has been able to communicate with her in a limited fashion with gestures, Atkinson said.

Copyright © 2003 The Modesto Bee.