A grandmother who served nearly 11 years behind bars for her 9-month-old grandson’s death while maintaining her innocence has been released from jail, one of her attorneys said Wednesday.
Maria Mendez — who was serving a 25-year-to-life prison term when attorneys challenged her conviction — pleaded no contest June 27 to one felony count each of voluntary manslaughter and child abuse in exchange for an 11-year sentence, which she had already served.
The 64-year-old woman was released from custody just over a week later, according to Paula Mitchell, legal director for the Loyola Law School, Los Angeles’ Project for the Innocent.
“She wanted to be vindicated. She wanted to prove her innocence,” Mitchell said in a telephone interview. “She just swallowed hard and said, `I don’t want to fight any more.”’
The plea came in the midst of a hearing in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom in which attorneys representing Mendez were asking a judge to overturn her October 2009 conviction for one count each of assault on a child causing death and child abuse involving the December 2006 death of her grandson, Emmanuel Mendez, who died a week after authorities were summoned to the Los Angeles home.
Jurors deadlocked on a murder charge — the most serious count against her stemming from the boy’s death.
“The District Attorney’s Office remains confident in the validity of the medical opinions and the medical evidence that supported the prosecution of the case,” said Shiara Davila-Morales, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office.
But Mendez’s attorneys contended that CT scans and autopsy photos of the boy’s internal injuries were not turned over to Mendez’s lawyer at the time of trial, and said that a number of experts from throughout the country agreed that the medical evidence showed that the child, who had fallen and struck his head days earlier, died accidentally.
Mitchell said there was “no evidence that she (Mendez) did anything to harm this child.”
Mendez was a widowed mother of 10 who was a legal permanent U.S. resident living in Los Angeles at the time of her grandson’s death, according to Mitchell.
Mendez was arrested in July 2007 by Los Angeles police and had been behind bars since then. After her release from jail last week, she traveled to Mexico to reunite with family members there.
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