On Feb. 1, 2003, 20-year-old Laura Trujillo brought the badly beaten body of her 2-year-old daughter, Alize, to the emergency room, where the toddler was then pronounced dead. The coroner said that it was one of the worst cases he had ever seen.
Soon after, Trujillo, who is confined to a wheelchair, was interrogated by the police. She initially told the police Alize's injuries might have been a result of a fall the day before. The police were suspicious and began to ask about Trujillo's live-in boyfriend of eight months, Randy Ramirez.
The detectives were able to prove that Ramirez was at home the night of Alize's death. When he was brought in for interrogation, he eventually confessed to beating the 2-year-old.
However, Helen Morgan, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, believed Trujillo was also responsible for her child's death.
"There is no question that these people were co-complicitors in abusing, and denying help to this child, that naturally resulted in her death," she said.
After Ramirez's confession, police charged both Ramirez and Trujillo with child abuse resulting in death, an offense that carries a maximum sentence of 48 years.
Scott Reisch, Trujillo's court-appointed lawyer, argued that Trujillo was not equally responsible for Alize's death.
"You know, she's probably not going to get any type of mother-of-the-year awards. But I think that she tried to do her best with the situation she had," he said.
Before the trial began, the defense learned that Ramirez had agreed to testify against Trujillo in return for a lighter sentence. Alize's autopsy listed two separate causes of death — ruptured internal organs and a fractured skull.
Ramirez confessed to punching Alize in the stomach, but said he did not cause her head injuries. Morgan believed that Trujillo had inflicted the blows to Alize's head.
Reisch's defense strategy was to argue that Ramirez alone was responsible for all the injuries and that Trujillo was powerless to stop him. Trujillo's version of what happened on the night of Alize's death was the basis for his case.
"Randy was awake in the bedroom," she said, "and I told him to watch Alize, and I took my pills, and I went to sleep. And when I woke up the next morning, she was laying on the floor, and I didn't see her stomach moving. And I seen that her lips were purple. And that's when I woke Randy up and told him that Alize wasn't breathing."
According to the couple's friends and family, Ramirez and Trujillo had a volatile relationship. In fact, three months before Alize's death, Trujillo told Ramirez she was leaving him for good. That night, Trujillo was a victim of a shooting that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
The police initially questioned Ramirez, but he was not charged. Although Trujillo believed that Ramirez had nothing to do with the shooting, Reisch did not think it was a coincidence.
"I think that she was so mesmerized by this guy, in a sense, that she didn't want to believe that he could do anything wrong," he said.
Even though authorities had told Trujillo that Ramirez might be physically abusing Alize, Trujillo moved back in with him after the shooting. The prosecutor believed that Trujillo's love for Ramirez may have contributed to Alize's death.