Couple back in court over child abuse
A couple convicted of beating their daughter at South Lake Tahoe in 1999 were in a California courtroom again Monday, this time accused of scalding their 2-year-old son.
Alfredo and Maria Esquivel, both 25, are charged with seven felonies because their son, Favian, suffered second- and third-degree burns on his legs and buttocks. Prosecutors claim the couple, who live in Oxnard, Calif., held their son in 146-degree bath water after he soiled his pants. The Esquivels pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges that include torture and disfigurement, both of which carry possible life sentences.
Favian’s burns were treated by doctors in late December, 18 hours after his burning bath. His grandmother brought him to a hospital in Tijuana, Mexico, after the burns were made worse by home remedies that included egg whites and aloe vera, said Oxnard police Detective Ken Klopman. Favian was transported from Tijuana to UC San Diego Medical Center where he was treated for life-threatening infections that had developed.
“I think he fluctuates from day to day,” Klopman said. “In general, his doctors say his condition is not life threatening but he’s a got a lifetime of medical needs ahead of him.”
The scalding took place the morning of Dec. 22.
“We know it was done after he soiled his pants,” Klopman said. “Whether it was done specifically to punish him? I can’t get into their minds and say that’s what they did intentionally.”
Alfredo Esquivel worked as a cashier at an Oxnard gas station before his arrest. His family lived in a converted garage that adjoined a house. Klopman said his investigation indicated there was nothing wrong with the water heater that filled the child’s bathtub. Instead, he said he believes the heater was set at a very hot temperature to provide enough heated water for both families.
“According to our investigation, the folks involved wanted to avoid detection by authorities because they had lost their children previously and were afraid they’d lose them again,” Klopman said.
Favian’s grandmother took the boy to a Tijuana for treatment because his condition was getting worse. Doctors in Mexico sent the boy to San Diego where authorities eventually notified Ventura County Child Protective Service of the case.
The Esquivels were arrested Jan. 31 after detectives completed a monthlong investigation. Klopman said the scalding was not an accident.
“Based on the facts we gathered, the people we talked to, the burn patterns on his legs. That’s why it took a month — we had to figure out what took place and then tried to piece it all together.”
Klopman said he has not discovered evidence of other alleged child abuse in his investigation of the Esquivels.
The South Lake Tahoe case that involved the couple began in September 1998. Police questioned them about possible child abuse after a county welfare employee noticed bruises on a little girl’s face. The girl was Luz, the Esquivel’s 2-year-old daughter. Police reported bruises on her back, legs, cheeks and jaw, both ears, her left arm and a partially healed bite mark on her right shoulder.
Alfredo pleaded guilty Oct. 8 to corporal punishment of a child. He and his wife eventually told investigators that he had punished his daughter different times for refusing to eat. Alfredo said he used his hand, a belt, a rubber sandal and an electrical cord to beat her.
“We were under a great deal of stress, both financially and struggling with medical problems,” wrote Maria, in a court document. “My daughter Luz was born prematurely and needed to eat to gain weight. She frequently refused to eat and would make herself throw up. My husband and I had never used corporal punishment to punish the children but would instead sent them to their room or remove their toys. I sincerely believe my husband was going through hard times and that these were isolated incidents that would not repeat themselves.”
El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Terrence Finney sentenced Alfredo to 270 days in jail, a psychological evaluation and anger management classes. The court ordered law enforcement to deport Alfredo after he served the time.
In March 1999, Maria pleaded no contest to the same charge her husband did, admitting she squeezed Luz’s face with her hand and caused some of the bruising. In June, his wife was sentenced to 90 days in jail but the punishment was suspended. Maria was put on three years probation, as was Alfredo, and ordered to attend child abuse counseling.
In November 2001, El Dorado County Superior Court Presiding Judge Suzanne Kingsbury terminated the couple’s probation sentence several months early because they had complied with the court’s terms and recieved positive reviews from counselors.
“Alfredo was a victim of child abuse by his mother, a single parent, he was removed from his mother by Child Protective Service in Santa Barbara County,” wrote Manuel Jimenez Jr., who provided psychotherapy to Alfredo through the Family Resource Center in 1999. “Mr. Esquivel has not missed a counseling session. He is open and honest. He is making an earnest effort in dealing with his issues, and is capable of breaking the cycle of abuse.”
The Esquivels lost custody of their children on Sept. 29, 1998, and regained it by April 2001. Since the 1998 incident Maria has given birth to two children, which makes her mother to five children in all.
The couple are in jail awaiting a March 14 preliminary hearing. Their bails are set at $250,000.