Eustajia Dominguez Mojica pleads to all charges and is sentenced to one year in jail, eight year and eight month suspended prison sentence
VISALIA – The death of a three-year-old girl who was left in a car in triple digit heat because of her own mother’s negligence was met with a relatively lenient sentence from Judge Michael Sheltzer. And the district attorney’s office made it known that they do not agree.
Eustajia Dominguez Mojica, 29, pleaded to all charges filed against her on Aug. 31. The charges included: child abuse with the special allegation of willful harm or injury resulting in death, involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy to commit a crime, two misdemeanor counts of child endangerment, misdemeanor possession of marijuana for sale, and misdemeanor planting, harvesting, or processing of marijuana.
Last week, “over the fervent objection of prosecutors” according to the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office, Mojica was sentenced to one year in jail with time served, four years felony probation, and 8 years, 8 months suspended state prison. A “suspended” sentence means that it is not being currently imposed and the defendant would only go to prison in the future if a judge ordered it as a consequence for violating her probation.
“The maximum in this case was 10 years, eight months, and our argument was that…she pled to all the charges and she should do the time,” deputy district attorney David Alavezos said.
Mojica left her daughter in the car when she drove to her sister’s house in Visalia on June 3. The car was parked in the sun while Mojica was processing marijuana in the house. The toddler was left in the car for over two hours while temperatures hit triple digits.
Mojica did not bring her daughter out of the car until one of the people at the house asked about her whereabouts. Emergency medical services transported the daughter to the hospital and Visalia police officers arrived at the house shortly thereafter. While searching the property, police discovered over 100 mature and immature marijuana plants and 457 one-pound packages of processed marijuana. Mojica initially denied being part of the operation.
The next day, Visalia Police Department officers investigated how hot the suspect vehicle could get, under similar conditions. Temperatures inside the car reached and stayed at over 130 degrees. Through further investigation, officers learned Mojica was warned numerous times by the child’s father about leaving the children in hot cars. Additionally, the investigation uncovered evidence of ongoing neglect based on conditions at Mojica’s residence and the inadequate supervision of her surviving children.
At the hospital, medical personnel worked diligently to help the victim. Hospital staff were unable to obtain an internal temperature reading, despite equipment that was capable of measuring up to 110 degrees. Pathologists determined the cause of death to be hyperthermia due to prolonged heat exposure. Court testimony established that a 107 degree internal temperature is fatal.
Unlike some cases where defense attorneys and defendants bargain over counts and sentences, Mojica pleaded to all of the district attorney’s charges. Effectively cutting the DA’s influence in sentencing out of the process.
“From a legal standpoint, we can’t say, ‘…we’re not going to let them dismiss count three,’ or whatever it is. In this case she pled to everything. So therefore the sentence is totally left up to the judge,” Alavezos said.