The grandmother and aunt of a 5-year-old boy who died in Coachella re-entered not guilty pleas today to murder charges, and to abuse allegations involving other children.
Hilaria Rangel, 55, and Miriam Silva, 39, were charged along with the boy's mother, 37-year-old Vanessa Cervantes Rangel, with one felony count of murder in the boy's death and with a misdemeanor count of abuse endangering an 11-year-old boy, according to court records.
Vanessa Rangel was additionally charged with felony counts of assault on a child under 8 resulting in death and of torture.
According to court records, the Rangels were also charged with three additional misdemeanor counts of abuse endangering a child, involving a 13-year-old girl, a 6-year-old girl, and a 9-year-old boy.
Silva and Hilaria Rangel re-entered not guilty pleas to their charges Wednesday at the Larson Justice Center in Indio.
During a preliminary hearing on Nov. 17, Deputy District Attorney Brijida Rodarte presented the judge with photos of John Doe from Sept. 8, showing the boy with lesions on his body, a split lip, a bump on the back of his head, and about 1.5 inches of skin missing on his right arm.
On Nov. 18, Investigator Ruben Martinez from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, who interviewed the boy's four siblings, all of whom also lived with their mother and grandmother, testified that the children said their mother beat the boy and would kick him so hard that he would fall to the ground.
The kids also told Martinez that their grandmother would often treat the boy's wounds, change his diaper, carry him, and wipe his tears away "so that his mother wouldn't see that he was crying," Martinez said.
Investigator Martin Alfaro, from the sheriff department's Central Homicide Unit, testified that in 2019, Miriam Silva became the legal guardian of the boy and one of his siblings while the grandmother became the legal guardian of the other three children. He said the mother, Vanessa Rangel, lost legal guardianship when Child Protective Services became involved in her case.
Near the end of the preliminary hearing, defense attorney Shaun Sullivan, representing Silva, and defense attorney Christopher Hickey, representing grandmother Hilaria Rangel, argued that the murder charge was an overcharge for the defendants.
But Rodarte said both defendants should stand on the murder charge because there were "three people surrounding a dead baby."
She said the grandmother was standing by and giving medical attention "so that the abuse she knows is coming can continue to be perpetrated by Vanessa to (John Doe)," and that Silva had a "legal-binding duty to care and has committed this homicide by omission."
"She's not just doing nothing, she's doing worse than nothing. Allowing it to continue over an extended period of time," Rodarte said.
Hickey argued, however, that "unrelenting torment on (John Doe), I think that's a stretch," pointing to evidence of the grandmother providing continuous medical treatment for the boy.
Speaking on behalf of Silva, Sullivan said, "Everything she did when she became aware of (John Doe's) state showed a regard for (John Doe's) life."
At the end of the preliminary hearing on Nov. 18, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dean Benjamini ruled that there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial for Hilaria Rangel and Silva on all of their charges.
The mother, who was not involved in the preliminary hearing, is due in court for a felony settlement conference on Dec. 28. The aunt and grandmother are due back the same day for a trial readiness conference.
On Sept. 8 at around 7:50 p.m., deputies from the sheriff's Thermal station responded to the 50400 block of South Kenmore Street in Coachella to administer juvenile medical aid, according to Sgt. Ben Ramirez.
Ramirez said the deputies were directed to a 5-year-old who was not breathing. Despite efforts from the deputies and Cal Fire medics, the child died at the scene.
On Sept. 13, sheriff's investigators searched a residence in the 51500 block of Date Street and arrested the deceased child's mother, Vanessa Rangel, according to Ramirez. The child's grandmother, Hilaria Rangel, was identified as a second suspect and arrested at a separate location in Coachella, he said.
Silva surrendered at the Thermal sheriff's station on Sept. 16, according to Ramirez.
The grandmother and Silva were booked into the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility in Banning and the mother was booked into the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside. They were all being held on $1 million bail.