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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Soft-spoken and nearly due with twins, Noemi Mendoza sat in a classroom at Lerdo Jail and reflected on the death of her 2-year-old son and her upcoming prison term.
"I guess it's like my attorney said, I failed to protect my children and I'm willing to accept that," she said.
Mendoza pleaded no contest to willful cruelty to a child in exchange for dismissal of the murder charge against her. She was sentenced Monday to six years in prison.
In an interview with The Californian Wednesday evening, Mendoza, 23, said she loves her children and has never abused them. It's the men in her life who have done that, she says.
She thought things were looking up when she met Cesar Osuna. There was no indication he would ultimately make her life miserable, and, according to police and prosecutors, kill Juan in a vicious attack last year.
"It seemed he had a big heart at the time," Mendoza said.
All her boys seemed fond of Osuna, and Juan especially took to him, she said. But there was an incident months before Juan's death in which the boy suffered a broken bone.
Mendoza said her other boys -- 5 and 7 -- told her they'd been playing and wrestling together when Juan was accidentally hurt. She said she had no reason to believe that wasn't the truth.
On Jan. 12, 2011, Juan suffered far worse injuries. He died after Osuna took the boy to Delano Regional Medical Center.
An autopsy revealed the boy had suffered broken ribs, torn abdominal muscles and a skull fracture, according to Delano police reports. Cause of death was blood loss due to blunt force trauma.
Mendoza said Osuna's story of what happened to Juan changed constantly over the next few months. Detectives told her Osuna was the main suspect in the boy's death, but she said she maintained a relationship with him until March 2011 because she didn't have all the details.
Then, three days before she and Osuna were scheduled to take a lie detector test, Osuna disappeared, Mendoza said. His exact whereabouts remained unknown for months, but police reported that he'd likely fled to Mexico.
And it was in Mexico that he met a gruesome demise. Delano police reported Monday that Osuna was doing construction work on a two-story house when he touched a live wire, fell from the building and became impaled on a fence.
It's unclear exactly when he died, but Mendoza said she began hearing rumors about a month ago that pictures had been posted online of Osuna in a casket. She didn't believe it, and even considered Osuna may have faked his death.
"To me it was like a joke," she said. "Him trying just to pretend he's dead or stuff like that."
Mendoza said it wasn't until Tuesday, when she read an article in The Californian confirming Osuna's death, that she discovered it was true. She wants to know more details about what happened.
"It's a nasty way to die, but it's too easy for him for what he did," she said.
Why didn't anyone tell her about Osuna's death? She's not sure, and even her attorney, Peter Kang, said he didn't know Osuna had died until Monday, and that the information wouldn't have impacted Mendoza's case.
Deputy District Attorney Arthur Norris, who prosecuted Mendoza's case, said he'd heard rumors the body had been found, but he wasn't positive it had been confirmed to be Osuna's.
Norris said he thought he mentioned the rumors to Kang, but he's not certain. And it was his understanding that he couldn't comment publicly about the rumors because federal authorities were involved in the case.
Norris said he doesn't know any details of the death or anything else regarding the time Osuna spent in Mexico, and Delano police haven't commented further.
Life after prison
Mendoza said her twins are due Aug. 10. Osuna is not the father, she said.
After giving birth in a hospital, Mendoza will be returned to whichever of the three women's prisons in the state to which she's assigned.
She's already looking ahead to her release. She wants to take classes to get her GED, and take some college-level courses, maybe something to do with computers.
And she'd like to regain custody of her children.
Mendoza realizes there are people in the community who blame her just as much as Osuna for what happened to Juan. She said those people shouldn't judge her because they don't know what she's been through.
"They don't know me, they don't know my life," she said.
She won't return to Delano. Mendoza said she has family in different parts of California.
While she's unsure exactly where she'll settle upon her release, it will be away from Kern County.
"I would like to move somewhere where nobody knows me at all," she said.