Mother bound over for trial in tot's death

June 07, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Jones on Wednesday bound over Hillary Titsworth to trial on a charge of murder in connection with the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Kateland.

Her husband, John Titsworth, also was bound over by Jones to face trial on charges of child abuse and being an accessory after the fact. He will not face a charge of aiding and abetting in the death, Jones ruled.

The rulings came after two days of testimony in the preliminary hearing.

The Titsworths have been in custody since April 11 when they were arrested in connection with Kateland's death. The District Attorney's Office has contended salt poisoning was the cause of death and that Kateland was forced to consume salt by her mother.

On Wednesday, Deputy District Attorney Deborah Owen called county Sheriff's Office Investigator Gabriel Vela to the stand.

Vela testified that during an interview with Hillary Titsworth, she told investigators she force-fed her daughter salt as punishment for drinking water before dinner and for not answering when questioned about the water.


Owen then played a tape recording of that interview.

In that interview Titsworth told investigators she pinched her daughter's nose, which made her open her mouth. She then poured salt into her daughter's mouth.

Hillary Titsworth is then heard telling investigators she stopped and asked her daughter to answer where she had gotten the water. When her daughter did not answer, she poured more salt.

Then, Hillary Titsworth said, her daughter went limp.

"She stopped moving. … She wouldn't respond to my call. … I don't know how she died," she said.

Hillary Titsworth was asked by investigators whether her husband saw her pour the salt down Kateland's throat.

She answered, "Yes."

She was asked if her husband tried to stop her and she indicated he did not.

She said her daughter was struggling a bit as she was feeding her the salt.

When Owen stopped the tape, Vela testified that after Kateland lost consciousness, Hillary Titsworth reported, she and her husband gave the girl a bath, dressed her in fresh clothes, covered her in a towel and placed her on her "porta-potty" in the bathroom.

They also tried to give her milk.

At some point, Hillary Titsworth went next door to a neighbor's house to call for help.

Owen asked Vela why John Titsworth did not call 911 or take the girl to the hospital immediately.

Vela testified Hillary Titsworth said her husband was trying to get a job with the city of Westmorland and did not want to hurt his chances.

Poli Flores, the El Centro attorney assigned to defend Hillary Titsworth, asked Vela if Hillary Titsworth tried to give cardiopulmonary resuscitation to her daughter. Vela answered she did.

Flores asked if investigators made Hillary Titsworth aware she did not have to talk and that she was not in custody when she did the interviews. He also asked if there were any "so-called Miranda warnings" given to her.

Vela responded that Hillary Titsworth was aware she could leave. He did not say specifically if any investigator had told her she did not have to talk with officers

El Centro attorney Chris Yturralde, assigned to represent John Titsworth, stated during the course of the interview with Hillary Titsworth she asked a number of times to be with her husband. Vela said she was told she could not be with her husband.

"She really wasn't free to leave, is that correct?" Yturralde asked Vela.

"That is not correct," Vela said.

Yturralde stated in the course of the taped interview, investigators never asked follow-up questions as to how Hillary Titsworth had known her husband was watching her. Vela responded that Yturralde was correct.

Owen then asked Vela if at some point Hillary was given the Miranda warnings.

Vela said she was.

Owen asked if she still spoke to investigators.

Vela responded, "Yes."

She asked if after Hillary Titsworth was given the Miranda warnings she still said her husband was watching when she poured the salt down the girl's throat.

Vela again responded, "Yes."

County Coroner Investigator Gary Hayes also was called to testify by Owen.

He said toxicology tests on Kateland showed she had an abnormally high level of sodium in her system — a higher level than what can cause the death of an individual.

He said the cause of death was listed by the medical examiner who did the autopsy as salt poisoning.

In closing arguments, Owen said there was sufficient evidence to seek a murder charge against Hillary Titsworth.

"This is a mother who deprived her daughter of water," she said.

"After this child was unresponsive she did not call 911," she said, adding, "This is a mother whose child is not breathing who does not call 911."

She argued Hillary Titsworth was not trying to save her daughter but protecting herself.

Owen argued about John Titsworth that his wife tried to protect him at first and that he tried to participate in what she called a coverup of the death.

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