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Prosecution says Hillary Titsworth confession proves toddler force-fed

June 06, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

The preliminary hearing for John and Hillary Titsworth, charged with murder in the death of their 2-year-old daughter, Kateland, started Tuesday and was expected to continue today.

As part of the hearing, the prosecution presents evidence for its case, and the judge must rule whether there is sufficient evidence to merit the murder charge.

That ruling, which would be issued by Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Jones, is expected to come today.

Deputy District Attorney Deborah Owen, assigned to prosecute the case, is attempting to prove salt poisoning was the cause of Kateland's death.

She argued that Hillary Titsworth confessed during an interview with investigators that she force-fed her daughter salt as a punishment for drinking water.

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Owen further argued John Titsworth was a witness to his wife's action and did not attempt to stop her, which, she has said, counts as aiding and abetting in the death.

Two investigators were called to the stand in the Imperial County Superior Court in El Centro on Tuesday to testify to information they received — one during an interview with Hillary and the other during an interview with the Titsworth's 5-year-old son.

Owen first called Stephen Mistriel, the Westmorland police officer who investigated Kateland's death, to the stand.

Mistriel told how on April 9 Hillary Titsworth had called 911 for her daughter, who had fallen unconscious.

Kateland was taken to Pioneers Memorial Hospital in Brawley, where she was pronounced dead.

Hillary and John Titsworth were arrested two days later and have remained in custody since that time, each with bail set at $1 million.

When questioned by Owen, Mistriel said when he first spoke to Hillary on April 9, she said she had fed her daughter Top Ramen noodles.

Mistriel said Kateland told him her daughter then had to go to the bathroom, so Hillary took her daughter and helped her onto her "potty" chair.

Two to three minutes later, Hillary said, she returned to find her daughter slumped over. Mistriel testified Hillary reported she tried to give her daughter cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Her daughter regained consciousness momentarily, and then she went to a neighbor's house to call 911, Hillary reported.

She also said John Titsworth was not home at the time.

Two days later, Mistriel said, Hillary's story changed.

He said during an audio-taped interview at the Westmorland police station, Hillary told investigators she had force-fed her daughter salt as a punishment for drinking water.

Mistriel testified Hillary said she had taken a salt container, pinched her daughter's nose and poured salt down her daughter's throat twice.

On the second time, Mistriel testified he was told by Hillary her daughter passed out.

Mistriel also said Hillary changed her story about her husband, saying he was present when the incident occurred.

El Centro attorney Chris Yturralde, assigned by the court to represent John Titsworth, is arguing while his client may have been present at the time, he was not aware of what was taking place until after his daughter had passed out.

John Titsworth claimed, according to Mistriel, that he had consumed a lot of alcohol earlier in the day and was passed out in the bedroom. He didn't become aware of what was happening until after his wife woke him up saying Hillary was unconscious.

Yturralde, through his line of questioning of Mistriel, argued there was nothing to suggest John helped his wife administer salt or that he knew what was happening.

Yturralde asked whether it was Mistriel's testimony that on tape Hillary said her husband had been present and a witness to what had taken place.

Under that line of questioning Mistriel wavered, stating he wasn't sure of her specific words concerning her husband's presence.

The next investigator called to the stand was county Sheriff's Sgt. Rick Macken, chief deputy coroner, who had interviewed the Titsworths' 5-year-old son.

Macken testified that when the boy was interviewed he indicated his mother had given Kateland salt.

Macken said the boy showed the motion of his mother leaning Kateland's head back and plugging her nose.

Macken said he asked the boy who did that action. He said the boy reported his mother did it. He then asked the boy what happened next. Macken testified the boy said Kateland was dead.

Yturralde questioned the consistency of the boy's information during the interview.

Macken said the boy may have not been consistent on every point, but Macken said any inconsistent point came because he did not have the time to fully explore all the boy's answers.

Yturralde then pointed out there were inconsistencies.

Macken said he did not think so.

Under a line of questioning, Macken said the boy was asked who had consumed salt.

At first, Macken testified, the boy said "no" when asked if the mother, the father, himself or Kateland had taken salt. Then, Macken said, the boy immediately corrected himself and said Kateland had been given the salt.

Macken said he did not see that as an inconsistency.

El Centro attorney Poli Flores Jr., assigned by the court to represent Hillary Titsworth, questioned whether Macken knew of the salt issue before he questioned the boy.

Macken said he did not.

Flores also asked Macken a general question that when he conducts such interviews if he finds answers that might exonerate an individual would he follow through with that line of questioning.

Macken said he is simply there to ask questions.

Flores then asked if Macken had thought that perhaps when the boy was motioning the actions by his mother to pinch Kateland's nose and tilt her head back that she was attempting to give her daughter CPR.

Flores argued that perhaps the boy was confused by what he was seeing.

Macken said he thought the boy was "very" clear that the mother was administering salt to her daughter when she pinched Kateland's nose.

Following Macken's testimony, Jones ended the day's hearing, stating it would continue today at 1:30 p.m.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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