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Titsworth receives prison term of 15 years to life for killing 2-year-old daughter

March 15, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Hillary Titsworth on Thursday was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for killing her daughter by force-feeding her toxic levels of salt, but not before she alleged in jail court her husband pressured her to do so.

With family members present in the small courtroom at the county Sheriff's Office, Titsworth was asked by Superior Court Judge Matias Contreras if she wished to make a statement before she was sentenced.

Titsworth asked the judge if she could read a letter she had written. She then stated she would never hurt her daughter — 2-year-old Kateland Titsworth — who died of salt poisoning April 9.

"I was forced into doing that to her," she said of forcing her daughter to swallow salt.

Titsworth said she did so to protect Kateland from her husband, John Anthony Titsworth, who, she alleged, was threatening to force-feed salt to the toddler.

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The District Attorney's Office was initially seeking murder charges against both Hillary and John Titsworth, but the murder charge against John Titsworth was reduced to child abuse and serving as an accessory after the fact. He pleaded no contest to those charges and was sentenced three weeks ago to four years in state prison.

Hillary Titsworth said of her husband, "He didn't know the salt would kill her."

She added she didn't think salt would kill Kateland.

Titsworth's statements implicating her husband differed from statements she had made to investigators, who recorded their interviews with her.

In those interviews Titsworth stated she had forced her daughter to swallow table salt as a form of punishment for drinking water.

Chris Yturralde, an El Centro attorney who represented John Titsworth, said after Thursday's sentencing, "(Hillary Titsworth) gave numerous statements to law enforcement and not once did she implicate her husband. In fact, she exonerated him."

He said the first time he heard Hillary Titsworth implicate her husband was when she was trying to make a deal with the DA's Office.

In court Thursday, Titsworth, reading from her letter, stated she had always wanted a little girl, adding that she has now lost her daughter. She said now she has been separated from her son, who at the time of Kateland's death was 5.

"The pain will always be there," she said.

She also told Contreras that second-degree murder does not fit the death of her daughter. She said the DA's Office is wrong to state she had malice in forcing her daughter to swallow salt.

Once Titsworth ended her statement, Contreras allowed Deputy District Attorney Deborah Owen a chance to comment.

Owen told Contreras it's important to point out that Hillary Titsworth was allowed a plea agreement in which a charge of assault on a child resulting in death was dropped.

If she had been convicted of that charge she could have faced 25 years to life in prison rather than 15 years to life. Her sentencing Thursday means she will be eligible for parole after 15 years.

Owen added, "Regardless of what the defendant says, she forced salt down her child's throat."

Owen further said, "The fact the defendant says someone forced her to do this is absolutely ridiculous."

Moments before pronouncing the sentence, Contreras said he agreed with Owen. He added it is not uncommon for people to make such comments when faced with a similar situation in court.

Contreras pointed out that Hillary Titsworth pleaded no contest after doing a "cost-benefit analysis."

With that, Contreras pronounced her sentence. He did allow a delay in turning Hillary Titsworth over to state prison authorities until March 28.

Owen said she will remain in county jail until that time, adding the delay was likely set to give her a chance to say goodbye to her family.

Outside the courtroom, media attempted to talk to Hillary Titsworth's family, but they did not wish to comment beyond shouting that the truth had not been told and that the media was "bloodthirsty."

Outside the courtroom a reporter asked Owen to comment on Titsworth's statements about her husband.

"We have always suspected all along that her husband was more involved," Owen said, but added that Hillary Titsworth did not make statements to that effect earlier in the process.

Owen added, "Most mothers, even what society would consider to be the worst mothers, would take a bullet for their daughter."

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

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