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Experts describe wounding of lifeless little girl

Veteran medical examiner recalls never seeing any injuries ‘as bad as her,’ referring to 5-year-old

Posted: June 25, 2010 9:30 p.m.
Updated: June 26, 2010 4:30 a.m.

SAN FERNANDO — A veteran emergency room physician said Friday he had never seen a patient injured as badly as tiny 5-year-old Desarie Elizabeth Saravia when she arrived lifeless at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital one afternoon in 2004.

Dr. Roberto Zappacosta was testifying at the murder trial of Antonio Rodriguez, who stands accused of beating to death the daughter of his girlfriend. Zappacosta described Saravia’s condition when she arrived at the hospital Nov. 12, 2004.

“I haven’t seen anyone as bad as her,” he said under cross-examination by defense attorney Jack R. Stone, explaining he found fresh injuries mixed with old ones.

Zappacosta opened Friday’s testimony detailing, for the prosecution, the head-to-toe injuries he had observed on the girl’s body.

When Saravia arrived at Newhall Memorial, her body temperature was 88 degrees, 10 degrees below normal, he said.

“She wasn’t breathing and her heart wasn’t beating. She looked malnourished and emaciated,” he told the jury in San Fernando Superior Court. “She had multiple bruises on her body.”

Dr. Zappacosta also noted in his report taken at the time that one of the girl’s pupils was larger than the other.

Asked by prosecutor Mary Sedgwick to explain, he said: “When one is more dilated than the other, it indicates significant head injury or a swelling of the brain.”

He found “linear abrasions” on her abdomen, arms and legs, as well as “several burns on her legs and arms and some old healing burns on her face.”

Zappacosta and the Newhall Memorial emergency team worked for 15 minutes to revive the little girl using cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques, oxygen, medication, intravenous solution and a nasal tube, he said.

Zappacosta declared Desarie Saravia dead at 1:55 p.m. that day.

Wire hanger and curling iron
Rodriguez, 29, is charged with rape, torture, murder, forcing a lewd act on a child, causing great bodily injury on a child resulting in the child’s death, and willfully permitting a child to suffer.

Saravia’s mother, Debby Saravia, is also in custody and is scheduled to be tried separately in her daughter’s death.
Debby Saravia and her boyfriend, Rodriguez, were bouncing around between the homes of friends and relatives at the time of Desarie’s death. Debby Saravia was, according to an earlier witness, expected to clean a house on Sturbridge Drive in Castaic on the day Desarie died.

Prosecutors are expected to argue that Rodriguez took Desarie and her brother, Brian, to Hasley Canyon Park, near Sturbridge, and that Rodriguez then raped and beat Desarie in the women’s bathroom there.

Lieutenant Chris Brackpool of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who was a detective in 2004, said Friday under oath that he inspected the park bathrooms and gathered evidence from the park, specifically a metal wire hanger from a trash can.

He said he also recovered a curling iron from the car Rodriguez drove to the hospital the day Desarie died.

Blood spatter found
Prosecutors this week have presented more than 100 photographs depicting the injuries found on the girl’s body, including “loop marks” inflicted by what they believe was an electrical cord and burns identical to those inflicted by lit cigarettes and by at least one other hot implement.

Brackpool said he and his partner traced Rodriguez’s car to a motel room in Van Nuys where they found blood splattered on the walls and by a lamp.

“There was several areas of blood in the room and various walls,” he said.

There was so much blood that two criminalists were called in to collect it, he added.

The trial continues Monday.


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