After the Nogales Police Department received a report of a man and woman involved in a verbal dispute on May 11, responding officers discovered an 8-year-old child with special needs living inside a filthy apartment with floors covered in piles of trash, rotten food and feces.
Four months later, 26-year-old Danielle Bojorquez of Nogales was sentenced at Santa Cruz County Superior Court to six years in prison for two counts of the child abuse of her daughter.
“I didn’t think that there was anything else left that I could see in my career that could disturb me the way that this disturbed me,” Superior Court Judge Thomas Fink said before delivering her sentence on Sept. 8, referring to photos of the child at the residence. “I had to make myself look at those photographs. It wasn’t easy. And I’ve seen a lot.”
Bojorquez was initially charged with five counts of child abuse, three of which were dismissed as a result of her agreement with the County Attorney’s Office to plead guilty to two of the charges.
According to her pre-sentence report, the NPD officers who responded to the call in May noted that Bojorquez appeared to be under the influence, due to her slurred speech and slow response time. After the officers asked her if there was anyone else inside the home, Bojorquez led them through the residence to her daughter.
The officers reported that the home had no running water or electricity, with a broken fridge filled with rotten food and flies. They also noted a smell of rotten food, feces and other odors inside the residence.
The living room had a “massive pile” of dirty clothes along the walls, and more piles of rotten food, bags of trash, feces, used diapers and other things were scattered throughout the residence.
Officers found the child wrapped in a blanket inside a crib, with a pale face, swollen eyes, a diaper not properly placed and full of urine, and her hair extremely tangled due to bad hygiene.
“I think what’s really important here, your honor, is the victim is an 8-year-old child who could not take care of herself, suffering from cerebral palsy,” County Prosecutor Gary Redente said in court, adding that the girl was also legally blind and deaf. “Just appalling circumstances that the child was forced to live in because she couldn’t take care of herself, and it was the defendant that was responsible for taking care of her.”
Bojorquez had told the responding officers in May that she and her daughter had been living in the apartment for about five months, and she did not clean the house nor bathe her daughter because they hadn’t had electricity or running water for about a month.
She added that she typically paid her bills with her daughter’s disability checks, but hadn’t paid them recently due to problems with her landlord.
“This is a woman at absolute rock bottom,” defense lawyer Mark Larkin said, adding that Bojorquez had since been able to acknowledge her mistakes.
Larkin said that when he tried to modify her conditions of release while the criminal case proceeded, Bojorquez showed strength by admitting she wasn’t ready to get out of jail and resist the urge to use drugs.
He added that the authortities inflicted the most emotional harm upon the child when they separated her from her mother, the only person she’s ever known as her caregiver.
“The child was not malnourished, not bruised or banged up. There wasn’t really any physical harm to the child,” Larkin said. “The emotional harm to the child was probably caused more by her removal and the separation.”
‘Not a life I want’
During her sentencing hearing, Bojorquez explained that she’s the mother of three children, her 8-year-old daughter being the only one in her custody. She said it was difficult to take her daughter to school and doctor appointments without a car.
“Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, I let depression take me down and I gave in to trying drugs,” Bojorquez said. “Nothing I say can change or make the situation better… I’m glad I was arrested. I deserved it. And I’m glad I was able to get clean because I realize it’s not a life I want.”
Bojorquez’s mother and aunt also addressed the court, asking Fink to sentence her to probation and give her the opportunity to rehabilitate herself and regain custody of her three children.
Her aunt stated that Bojorquez is not a “malicious person,” and had she known about her family’s situation, she would’ve stepped in to help a lot sooner. Her mother added that she had been focused on helping her son with his four children, but was now willing to help her daughter through her recovery, as well.
“I know that there are other circumstances that the defendant has stated that her family is very supportive here. However, there was no family support while the child was going through what she had to go through,” Redente said.
Still, the county prosecutor also asked the court for the mitigated sentence of one year in prison for each count, followed by intensive probation supervision to allow for rehabilitation.
But Judge Fink opposed the request and handed Bojorquez a sentence of three years for each count, with the sentences to be served consecutively.
“This is an 8-year-old child who had absolutely no ability to care for herself or ask for help or to leave the home or make a phone call,” Fink said, adding that this wasn’t a case for probation. “I don’t think, as a society, we can take that chance from what I saw and what I’ve seen and from your history as a parent.”