Mom rejects plea after toddler found wandering

July 9, 2010 4:33:50 AM PDT
The attorney for a Petaluma woman whose 2-year-old daughter was found alone on a Petaluma street corner last month rejected a plea offer by the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office this morning.

Deputy Public Defender Scott Murray rejected the prosecution's offer for his client, Ana Laura Rendon, to plead guilty to misdemeanor child cruelty.

Rendon, 23, was arrested by Petaluma police for misdemeanor child cruelty but has been charged with felony child cruelty.

She faces up to three years in prison if she is convicted of that charge but only up to a year in the county jail if convicted of the misdemeanor charge. She could also get probation instead.

"I don't see that she committed any crime. I think a crime was committed, it just wasn't her," Murray said after a settlement conference hearing in Sonoma County Superior Court this morning.

Neither the prosecution nor Petaluma police have publicly discussed how Rendon's daughter Joana got from Rendon's boyfriend's house on Mountain View Avenue to the corner of Oak and Kentucky streets, more than a mile away, on the night of June 20.

Police said it is not possible that the barefoot child walked safely and unnoticed that far along dark streets and through busy intersections.

The crying girl was found at about 10:30 p.m. by a couple who took her inside and called police. Sonoma County Child Protective Services placed the girl in the Valley of the Moon Children's home.

Police went to Rendon's boyfriend Jose Manuel Carmona's house the next morning after identifying Rendon as the mother. When questioned, Rendon said she had been drinking tequila and had last seen her daughter sleeping on a couch between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on June 20.

When Carmona came home from work at about 10:30 p.m. and did not see the child, Rendon told him she assumed her daughter went to another bedroom in the house to sleep.

Carmona, who is not the girl's father, was not arrested.

Murray said that whether Rendon is convicted of felony or misdemeanor child cruelty, she will lose her daughter and will be deported because there is a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement hold on her. Rendon is being held in Sonoma County Jail on that hold and on $15,000 bail.

Rendon will appear in court Thursday morning, when a preliminary hearing date will be set unless she agrees to accept the misdemeanor plea offer after conferring with Murray.

Murray said he wants to talk further with Rendon about her options before Thursday.

"This is all out of the blue for her. There are strange twists to this. We'll have to wait until the preliminary hearing." Murray said.

Murray said he wants the preliminary hearing held within 10 court days or by July 21 and that he might present an affirmative defense, in which witnesses testify on behalf of the defendant, at the hearing.

"I don't think the facts show she mistreated her child or put her in danger. This was a safe environment," Murray said of Carmona's home, where other relatives also live.


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