SANTA ANA (CBS) — A 33-year-old Cypress man was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years to life for fatally beating his 2-year-old niece.
Michael David Balderas was found guilty Jan. 25 of second-degree murder and child assault causing death. Balderas did not speak before Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg handed down his punishment.
Jurors initially voted 11-1 for guilt on first-degree murder, then unanimously agreed to find him guilty of the lesser charge.
Nurses and physicians testified that the child suffered anal and vaginal tears and that her DNA was found in a swab taken from Balderas’ penis. Though no sexual assault charges were brought, Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray alleged the defendant “tortured and sexually assaulted the child over a five-hour period.”
Balderas whipped the toddler, Jo Jade, with his belt until she bled to death on March 30, 2006, Murray said.
“His behavior was monstrous and the evidence was overwhelming,” Murray said after the sentencing.
The prosecutor said a motive for the crime was elusive.
“A lot of times (with) murders — as senseless as they are — you can at least determine a motive. But in this case, the motive was the defendant’s sexual interests and uncontrollable anger, which is no motive at all,” Murray said.
“It’s almost unfathomable. The answer is, unsatisfying as it is, he’s just not like everybody else. There’s a part of his humanity that’s missing.”
Balderas’ sister, Mary Hernandez, arranged for her brother to take charge of the girl in October 2005, because she and her husband, Joe, were being sent to federal prison in Texas.
Balderas was also supposed to care for the couple’s two boys, but that arrangement hadn’t been worked out by the time his niece came to live with him and his girlfriend in Cypress in January 2006.
Shannon James testified that she and Balderas had been together for about seven years when they started looking after Jo Jade.
The two differed on how to discipline the girl, and while they agreed not to spank her, Balderas became “very controlling about the potty training,” James testified. Balderas told James to “stay out of it — I was too nice to her,” when it came to discipline, she said.
About 4 p.m. on the day the toddler died, a panic-stricken Balderas called James and asked her to rush home without explaining what happened, the woman said.
When James got home, Balderas had the girl in his arms and the two drove to the hospital while James called 911. While James was on the line with a 911 dispatcher, Balderas told her, “Hang up the phone, I’m going to jail for this,” James testified.
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