Jury finds mother not guilty of urging daughter to fight

Apr 14 2011 - 9:39am

FRESNO, Calif. -- A jury took only two hours Wednesday to find a Fresno woman not guilty of urging her daughter to fight a 13-year-old girl -- even though her actions were captured on a YouTube video.

On the video, Carla Jimenez is seen circling the two combatants and telling her 12-year-old daughter, "Swing, baby, swing!" She then shouts out the F-word when someone tries to stop the fight.

When the verdict was announced in Fresno County Superior Court, Jimenez appeared stunned, holding onto the defense table for support.

The mother of the 13-year-old -- Cecelia Cerda -- bolted from the courtroom before Judge Gary Orozco thanked the jury for its public service.

"I'm upset," Cerda said afterward. "I just can't believe it, because she admitted to everything."

Jimenez, 43, was charged with a misdemeanor -- contributing to the delinquency of a minor. But her attorney, Roger Vehrs, said Jimenez was trying to protect her daughter from schoolyard bullies.

After the verdict, jurors said the prosecution didn't prove its case.

"There was no criminal intent," juror Reggie Derryberry said.

Juror Seng Thao said Jimenez did all she could to prevent the fight. She transferred her child to another school and also told a school official on the day of the fight that her daughter was being bullied.

"You have to look at all the things that led up to the fight," Thao said.

Once the fight happened, Jimenez had no choice but to get involved, Thao said.

Derryberry said: "In hindsight, she probably didn't handle it correctly."

Sheriff's deputies arrested Jimenez in September after her daughter got into a street fight with the 13-year-old in Fresno. Jimenez's daughter was outnumbered; the 13-year-old had 30 of her friends watching. One of them later posted video of the fight on YouTube.

The 12-year-old's aunt, Nancy Ramirez, also was arrested after driving the girl to the fight location and encouraging her niece to fight the 13-year-old, sheriff's deputies said.

On March 30, Ramirez pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. She is scheduled to be sentenced April 19 and could face a year in jail and a $1,000 fine -- the same penalty Jimenez might have faced if convicted.

Jimenez, however, chose to contest the charge, saying she never wanted her daughter to fight anyone. Her trial lasted two days.

Both sides agree that Jimenez's daughter and the 13-year-old once were friends at Scandinavian Middle School. But Jimenez transferred her daughter to Fort Miller Middle School after she became a target of bullies at Scandinavian.

Wednesday, Jimenez explained her actions that were captured in the YouTube video. "I made a poor decision," she testified. "I was in shock. It happened so quick, I didn't have time to think or react."

To bolster the prosecution's case, deputy district attorney Susan Rand showed the 35-second YouTube video in stop action. The video also showed Jimenez kicking the 13-year-old in the back.

But when Jimenez's attorney, Roger Vehrs, asked her whether she kicked the 13-year-old, Jimenez said: "I couldn't even tell which kid was mine." The combatants were wearing similar clothing.

On cross-examination, Rand asked Jimenez whether she said, "Swing, baby, swing!" Jimenez said, "I don't know what I was saying. I don't know what I was doing. I was in shock."

But she admitted using the F-word, saying, "I was angry. I had done everything to prevent it."

Jimenez also admitted that she didn't call 911 when her daughter told her the fight was about to start or while the fight was happening.

"Did you help her escape?" Rand asked.

"No, I didn't. I reacted poorly," Jimenez said.

On the day of the fight, Jimenez confronted her daughter's tormenters at a store near Scandinavian, took pictures of them, and threatened to call police. She then went to Scandinavian and talked with Vice Principal Michael Ota about her daughter being bullied.

Ota testified Wednesday that he was unable to do anything about the bullying that day because Jimenez's daughter was not with her to talk about it. Also, the pictures Jimenez took were too blurry for him to identify the tormentors, and Jimenez only knew the nickname of the 13-year-old.

After the verdict, an exhausted Jimenez said, "I want to put this behind us now. It was not a win-win situation."

She said her daughter is no longer bullied by Scandinavian students, but she has no friends because of the incident.

(c) 2011, The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.).

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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