OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A judge Wednesday ordered a 20-year-old Oakland woman to stand trial on a murder charge for the asphyxiation death of her 2-year-old daughter last year.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner also ruled that prosecutors presented enough evidence at a two-day preliminary hearing to have Tiffany Lopez stand trial on a charge of assault on a child under the age of 8 causing death.
In a brief summary of his case before Horner ruled, prosecutor Patrick Moriarty said he doesn’t think that Lopez, who is being held in custody without bail, planned to kill her daughter, Kamilah Russell, on March 9, 2010.
But Moriarty said he believes Lopez’s confession to Oakland police in a lengthy interrogation that night and the following morning that she covered Kamilah’s mouth for about 17 seconds indicates that Lopez acted with implied malice because she must have known that the natural consequences of her actions were dangerous to human life, especially to a 2-year-old.
Moriarty said Lopez “covered Kamilah’s mouth and nose and that’s what led to the child’s death.”
Oakland police said they received a 911 call at 4:30 p.m. on March 9, 2010, reporting that Kamilah wasn’t breathing. Kamilah was with Lopez at the apartment in the 2800 block of High Street where they lived with Russell’s father, Joseph Russell Jr., who wasn’t at home at the time.
Kamilah was taken to Children’s Hospital in Oakland, where she was pronounced dead at 5:35 p.m. that day. Lopez, who had moved to Oakland from San Mateo about three weeks earlier, was arrested shortly afterward. A pathologist ruled that Kamilah died of asphyxia due to smothering, finding that there was an inadequate blood flow to her brain.
Lopez’s lawyer, Lindsay Horstman, told Horner that she thinks there is insufficient evidence to have Lopez stand trial for murder, but she didn’t explain why. She didn’t challenge the assault charge.
In cross-examining Oakland police Officer Jason Andersen, who was the lead investigator in the case, Horstman noted that during Lopez’s interrogation she said nearly 60 times that Kamilah’s death had been an accident.
Horstman also said that Lopez was under a lot of stress at the time because she had just turned 19 but had two children and was three months pregnant with a third child.
In her videotaped interview with Andersen and Sgt. Gus Galindo, which was played in court, Lopez said she briefly covered Kamilah’s mouth because “I was frustrated” since Kamilah was loudly screaming for her father, Joseph Russell Jr., who wasn’t at home at the time.
Sobbing, Lopez said, “All I wanted to do was to get her to stop. She wasn’t supposed to die.”
Lopez said, “I didn’t mean to kill her! I love my baby girl!”
Lopez initially told police in her interview that she had been playing hide-and-seek with Kamilah and didn’t realize until it was too late that her daughter was underneath her and she crushed her when she sat on the couch at the apartment.
But Andersen and Galindo told Lopez that her story didn’t make sense because she weighed nearly 250 pounds and Kamilah only weighed 37 pounds and Kamilah would have screamed in agony if Lopez had sat on her.
When Horstman asked Andersen Wednesday if he and Galindo were overly-aggressive in questioning Lopez and tried to force her into making a confession, Andersen said he thinks that her initial story was a lie and he merely “tried to get her to tell the truth.”
He said that eventually, “I got a story that fit the evidence.”
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