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Mistrial declared in Yara Belen Perez murder case

On Monday, the mother accused of killing her 3-year old daughter and stuffing her body in the trunk of her car sat stoic for most of the first day of her capital murder trial, breaking into tears only when prosecutors displayed a picture of the toddler.

At the time of her daughter’s killing, Yara Perez, 31, was living with her then boyfriend Francisco Castaneda, who in 2010 was convicted of capital murder for the same crime and was sentenced to life in prison.

Perez’s defense attorney, Joe Spencer, is trying to point to Castaneda for the killing.

“She (Perez) was absolutely helpless. No parent is ever going to forget losing their child, much less losing her in your arms,” Spencer said.

Spencer said the day Jacqueline died, Perez left the toddler and Castaneda alone while she ran errands. When she returned home, Perez noticed Jacqueline had bruises on her chin and cheek.

Spencer said Castaneda did not allow Perez to call police. After police discovered Jacqueline’s body the same day, Perez willingly spoke to a detective without an attorney present. According to that statement, Perez asked Castaneda about the bruising, and Castaneda allegedly told her nothing had happened and said “there you go, starting again,” in Spanish.

Later that evening, Jacqueline began vomiting and complaining of a stomachache. Her breathing then became very shallow and it was clear she was not well. According to the statement Perez gave police, she repeatedly told Castaneda they needed to take the child to the doctor.

He resisted and Jacqueline later died. Spencer points to the fact that the keys to Perez’s car were found in Castaneda’s pockets to show it was him who put the toddler’s body in the trunk.

“She should have called 911 earlier? We believe, based on the medical evidence, wouldn’t have even saved the baby. It was too late. She (Perez) is a victim of battered women’s syndrome. It is very clear. All the symptoms are there… When she realized Jacquie was extremely sick and hurt, she passed away shortly after that. At that point, it was too late. Was she negligent? Maybe. But she did not not have anything to do with killing that baby,” Spencer said during an interview Monday.

Prosecutors brought two witnesses to the stand — the detective who spoke to Perez the day of the body’s discovery, Erik Messer and Castaneda’s sister, Abigail Castaneda, who called 911 the day of the killing.

Castaneda said Perez called her at about 7 or 8 p.m. the day Jacqueline died. She said Perez was hysterical, saying she was going to kill herself because Jacqueline was not breathing. Abigail Castaneda left work to go check on Jacqueline, but she said Perez would not allow her inside the apartment, blocking her entry by holding the door.

Abigail Castaneda said she still managed to see Jacqueline on the floor of the living room, her body covered with a blanket from the belly button down. She said the baby did not appear to be breathing.

Abigail Castaneda left the apartment but told Perez she was going to call police. Castaneda said Perez called her minutes later and told her medics had arrived and were looking at Jacqueline.

But minutes after that, Abigail Castaneda said she called Perez back, and again, Perez was hysterical, saying the baby was not breathing and that she was going to kill herself.

Abigail Castaneda then called 911. She told the operator her brother and Perez “were crazy, they were crying, they were screaming.” The jury listened attentively as Prosecutors played the seven minute 911 call.

Soon after, prosecutors showed the picture of Jacqueline. Both Abigail Castaneda and Yara Perez began weeping.

Earlier in the day, during Messer’s testimony, Spencer referenced Perez’s statement, in which she said Francisco Castaneda had beat her before. Messer said he remembered Perez telling him that. According to the statement, Castaneda once beat her and tried to choke her when Perez received a phone call from a friend who asked if she was alone.

“I swear I thought I was going to die,” Perez told Messer, according to the statement.

According to the police statement, Perez told Castaneda to tell the truth in front of Messer, but Castaneda shook his head, as in saying no. Messer, in the statement, said he interpreted that as a no.

Jacqueline’s biological father, Marco Gonzalez, has told ABC-7 he does not believe Perez is remorseful.

“She has no sympathy at all. People see her on the streets…happy, jolly just like a regular person with nothing on their mind,” he said in June, 2010.

Spencer said Perez has been deeply affected by Jacqueline’s death.

“She saw her child die in their arms. She’s never forgotten that. Yara Perez, when she goes to Walmart, when she goes around town, she’s been assaulted… She’s having to deal with this. She’s absolutely remorseful,” Spencer said.

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