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Friday, July 02, 2004

The Lompoc Record - Serving the Lompoc Valley - Hernandez released without being charged

The Lompoc Record - Serving the Lompoc Valley
7/2/04 A Oaxacan woman arrested on suspicion of killing her newborn son and burying him in the backyard of her Santa Maria home went free on Thursday after an autopsy revealed that the infant likely was dead at birth.

"Reyna Hernandez will not be charged with the death of her newborn infant," said Lt. Larry Ralston of the Santa Maria Police Department.

Though the case remains open, it no longer is considered a homicide investigation, Ralston said.

"Results of the autopsy reveal that the infant may have been deceased at the time of birth," he said. "Because of the condition of the infant, the pathologist is not able to clearly determine that the death was as a result of anything the mother may have done or failed to do."

Cause of the newborn's death could not be determined during a Thursday autopsy, but pending test results might yield more information, according to Sgt. Chris Pappas of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department.

Christie Stanley, Santa Barbara County assistant district attorney, categorized the police investigation during the past two days as "very thorough," and said that the autopsy was the deciding factor in the case.

"In order to charge her in a crime involving the death of this baby, there has to be proof that the baby is alive," Stanley said. "We have to prove some criminal agency on her part."

Hernandez, 23, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, had been held in Santa Barbara County Jail without bail from Tuesday until Thursday. She was suspected of killing the newborn and burying him about two weeks ago behind a shed at her family home in the 700 block of West Polk Street.

Hernandez told police that she disguised her pregnancy as she carried it to term, then secretly gave birth in the bathroom of the home she shared with at least six other people, Ralston said. She told police that she was unconscious during the delivery, and that when she came to, the baby wasn't breathing, he said.

She told police that, believing the baby was dead, she placed him in a plastic grocery bag and buried him in a hole she dug in the backyard without alerting anybody else at the house, Ralston said.

Burying the baby in this manner likely violates a misdemeanor health and safety code regarding improper disposal of a human body, Stanley said, adding that no charges would be filed at this time.

A cousin of Hernandez who was doing yard work discovered the body on Tuesday and alerted authorities.

Hernandez is estranged from the husband of two other children - ages 2 and 4 - and it is unknown who may have fathered the deceased newborn. She is employed as a field worker in Santa Maria, and has lived in the area for about five years.

Staff writer Quintin Cushner can be reached at 739-2217 or by e-mail at qcushner@pulitzer.net.

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