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Defense rests in Rodriguez trial

Crime: Closing arguments finish in trial for man accused of murdering 5-year-old Desarie Saravia

Posted: July 6, 2010 9:45 p.m.
Updated: July 7, 2010 4:55 a.m.

SAN FERNANDO — There is no evidence that 5-year-old Desarie Elizabeth Saravia was sexually assaulted by the man accused of beating her to death inside a Castaic park bathroom, the man’s defense lawyer said in closing arguments Tuesday.

Attorney Jack R. Stone, in wrapping up his defense of accused child-killer Antonio Rodriguez, told jurors in the San Fernando Superior Court room that conflicting interpretations of injuries to the girl’s genitals and anus offered by expert doctors during the trial point to reasonable doubt that she was sexually assaulted.

If one doctor says she was sexually assaulted and another doctor says she was not, Stone told jurors, “and, if you believe that both sides are reasonable, then you must adopt the one that points to innocence.”

Besides murder and torture, Rodriguez faces sex-related charges in the death of Desarie, whose nude body was dumped on the front lawn of a Castaic home in 2004.

Stone began his closing argument Friday before the holiday weekend and concluded Tuesday morning, examining key points in the testimony of all witnesses called during the trial, including a battery of medical professionals summoned by both sides.

Two medical experts called by the defense each told the jury that the evidence of cuts and bruises found in the vaginal and anal areas of Desarie’s body did not prove with “certainty” that they were the result of a sexual assault, Stone reminded them.

Desarie Saravia was pronounced dead on Nov. 12, 2004, at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital after she was rushed to the emergency room exhibiting head-to-toe injuries of having been battered, burned and whipped.

Her mother, Debby Saravia, remains in custody and is scheduled to be tried separately in connection with her daughter’s death.

Debby Saravia’s boyfriend, Rodriguez, 29, is charged with nine crimes, including five specifically against children.

Prosecutor Mary Sedgwick wrapped up her case last week, telling the jury Rodriguez sexually assaulted Desarie on Nov. 12, 2004, in the women’s bathroom of Hasley Canyon Park. Then he beat her to death, Sedgwick said.

Stone asked jurors if they really believe that account.

“He’s with two children and he’s taking them to the park,” Stone said Tuesday. “He can see there are some ladies there at the park with children, but he takes her (Desarie) into the ladies’ bathroom.

“If he was interested in sex, wouldn’t he be more likely to take her into the men’s washroom?” Stone asked.

“And what’s he doing in there? He’s yelling. If he’s in the act of sex, isn’t he going to attract attention as if to say, ‘Hey, come look what I’m doing’?”

Stone showed the jury only two photos in his final argument, both taken from a videotape recorded inside the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station the day after Desarie died.

It showed his client and the girl’s mother seated at an interview table.

Stone used a red laser pointer to circle the mother’s outstretched hand, drawing attention to her white inch-long acrylic fingernails.

Dr. Carol Berkowitz, executive vice chairwoman in the Department of Pediatrics at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, testified during the trial that three scratches to Desarie’s vaginal area could have been made by human fingernails.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Whose fingernail marks are there?’”

Rodriguez is charged with murder, torture, allowing a child to suffer, forcing a lewd act on a child and inflicting “inhuman corporal punishment” on a child, as well as two counts of allowing a child to suffer conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death and two counts of sexually penetrating a person against her will.


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