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Parents plead no contest in baby's death

January 23, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer
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A mother who force-fed her 2-year-old daughter toxic levels of salt to punish her pleaded no contest Tuesday to a second-degree murder charge.

Westmorland resident Hillary Titsworth, 22, will be sentenced Feb. 28 and will face a prison term of 15 years to life.

Her husband, John Anthony Titsworth, 24, pleaded no contest in the County Courthouse in El Centro on Tuesday to charges of child endangerment and being an accessory after the fact. He will be sentenced Feb. 25 and faces a maximum prison term of six years.

The Titsworths' case stems from the April 9, 2001, death of their daughter, Kateland.

An autopsy revealed Kateland had toxic levels of salt in her system. Hillary Titsworth admitted to authorities she fed her daughter salt as punishment.

She and her husband were arrested on suspicion of murder and the District Attorney's Office filed murder charges against both.

The charges against John Titsworth were later reduced to the counts of child abuse and being an accessory after the fact.

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In accepting the plea of no contest to second-degree murder against Hillary Titsworth, the DA's Office dropped a charge of assault on a child resulting in death.

Deputy District Attorney Deborah Owen said she thinks the plea is fair.

"Clearly she had malice when she gave her child salt, but I don't believe she had a premeditated intent to kill her child," Owen said.

Owen said the plea means Hillary Titsworth must receive a 15-year-to-life sentence. That would mean she would serve life with the possibility of parole after serving 85 percent of the 15 years.

In the case of John Titsworth, Superior Court Judge Matias Contreras indicated he would consider a tentative sentence of four years in state prison rather than the full six years.

Chris Yturralde, the El Centro-based attorney for John Titsworth, said his client chose to accept the plea. He also said there was a possibility Hillary Titsworth was going to come forward with more evidence regarding her husband than came out during the preliminary hearing, in an attempt to reduce her own sentence.

Yturralde declined to discuss the evidence, but said he was concerned if she did present it, the DA's Office might refile murder charges against John Titsworth.

Yturralde said under the plea agreement the DA's Office has agreed it will not seek further charges against his client.

El Centro-based attorney Poli Flores, who represented Hillary Titsworth, said this morning of his client, "It was her decision. She weighed the options."

Flores said he could not comment on whether his client was going to testify against John Titsworth.

Owen said it was better to accept the pleas than go through the trial process when the Titsworths' 5-year-old son would have to testify.

The boy is in the care of relatives.

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

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