Juana Perez Valencia: Accused Baby Killer Blocked From Testifying in English

How's this for a rare dilemma: A Mexico City native facing charges she murdered her infant baby in 2009 and tossed the girl's body in a Stanton trash can was told she could testify in her own defense today only if she spoke in Spanish and used an interpreter.

Speaking softly in elementary English outside the presence of the jury, a visibly scared, 21-year-old Juana Perez Valencia of Anaheim first told Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals that she wanted to testify in English.

But in response to Goethal's questions she changed her mind and said she wanted to use a Spanish interpreter. That answer didn't delight her own defense lawyer, Robert M. Viefhaus.

Viefhaus admitted that he didn't want Valencia to testify unless it was in English because he hoped jurors would be able to make an "emotional connection" to his client. He reasoned that an interpreter would translate her answers in a boring "monotone" that would "dilute" the impact on the jury. Either Valencia would testify in English or not at all, he argued.

Viefhaus said, "It's important that they [the jurors] don't believe she's trying to hide anything."

Veteran homicide prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh told Goethals that he trusted that he'd make the "right decision," but worried aloud about preventing "an appellate issue" if the defendant is ultimately convicted of murder.

At several points during an hour long discussion, it looked like Goethals--openly concerned about not denying Valencia the right to testify in her own defense--was willing to grant the defense wish. But he changed his mind after the defendant gave contradictory answers and didn't seem to fully grasp discussions in English of her situation.

Goethals confronted Valencia one last time, asking her if she was willing to testify in Spanish. After a pause, she said no. Viefhaus looked exasperated.

"I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't," said Goethals. 

The lawyers are scheduled to give their closing arguments in the case tomorrow morning inside Orange County's central courthouse in Santa Ana.

Police believe that Valencia--who said she was too poor to attend high school in Mexico--gave birth to the girl just before Christmas 2009 while at work as a waitress at Sombrero's Mexican restaurant in Stanton, smothered the infant, stuck the corpse in a plastic bag and tossed it into the trash.

Orange County Sheriff's Department deputies found the corpse.

--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly


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