MIAMI -- Trapped in a bathtub, his hands and feet bound, 10-year-old Victor Barahona could only listen through a wall as his adoptive parents beat his sister to death.
Nubia, his twin, was struck repeatedly by their adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, "while she screamed and cried until she was dead," Miami-Dade police detectives reported in an arrest warrant unsealed Monday.
The chilling document was released as Miami-Dade's top cop and prosecutor announced at a press conference that Jorge and Carmen Barahona will face charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and child neglect. The warrant also raises further questions about when Nubia died and whether a state child welfare agency investigation could have prevented the girl's death.
The arrest warrant, drafted last week, pinpointed Nubia's fatal injuries as having occurred "on or about Feb. 11" -- or one day after a therapist called a Department of Children & Families abuse hot line to say the twins were bound hand and foot all day, released only to eat.
Law enforcement officials close to the case, however, say the fatal beating could have happened earlier. The exact day and time of Nubia's death is still uncertain, in part because Nubia's body was ravaged by decomposition and chemicals, and because Victor's sense of time may be skewed -- he was stuck in a dark bathroom for hours on end.
Investigators are also considering another clue: A neighbor reported a stench consistent with decomposition coming from the Barahonas' home in December. Outside the house were dozens of bottles of Pine-Sol.
Also, homicide detectives over the weekend interviewed more witnesses, plus the Barahonas themselves. The Barahonas gave "a number of self-serving statements," said Miami-Dade Police Director Jim Loftus, who declined to elaborate.
Asked at the press conference if the DCF abuse hotline probe could have triggered Nubia's fatal beating, Loftus said, "I don't think that's the case."
Nubia's body was found on Valentine's Day in the flatbed of Jorge Barahona's pest-control truck, drenched in toxic chemicals. Her twin was found hours earlier in the pickup's cab, burned by caustic chemicals, convulsing, but still alive. He is recovering at a therapeutic foster home after being released from Jackson Memorial Hospital's burn unit.
Victor's statement to police was key in preparing the charges against the Barahonas. An autopsy found that Nubia died from blunt-force trauma, according to a warrant prepared by Miami-Dade Sgt. Julio Padron and prosecutor Gail Levine.
"This is, in my experience, one of the saddest commentaries on the human condition that I've ever seen," Loftus said. "It's depressing. It's sickening."
Said State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle: "It really is unspeakable." She said prosecutors could seek the death penalty.
The torment of Nubia's final hours may have been only the ending to what police describe as a yearlong reign of terror in which both Nubia and Victor were beaten, tortured and "caged."
The children, the warrant said, were "repeatedly hit, punched, beaten with multiple objects about their bodies, bound and left for days on end, (and) locked inside the only bathroom in the family home."
The abuse left Victor permanently disfigured, as one of the beatings apparently ripped open a surgical scar from the repair of a cleft palate, police said.
The documents released by police Monday come as DCF has tried in recent years to distance itself from a series of scandals that have plagued the agency for decades.
Shortly after the twins were found, newly appointed DCF Secretary David Wilkins appointed a three-member investigative panel to determine how the girl died, and what lessons can be learned from her death.
On Monday, McClatchy Newspapers learned that two of Wilkins' top-ranked administrators -- Walter Cook, who headed the agency's abuse hot line, and Assistant Secretary David Fairbanks -- had abruptly left the department. Cook had appeared last week before the review panel to discuss the performance of the hot line, which has emerged as a key focus of agency lapses that may have contributed to Nubia's death.
Agency spokesman Joe Follick declined to discuss the two men's departures. Wilkins said in a prepared statement that he had asked several administrators to submit resignations upon his arrival at DCF in January. "On Friday," Wilkins added, "I accepted several leaders' resignations and asked several others to join me in the new administration."
DCF's most recent contact with the Barahona family came at 2:22 p.m. on Feb. 10, when a children's therapist told the state's abuse hot line that the twins "are tied by their hands and feet with tape and made to stay in a bathtub all day and night as a form of punishment."
DCF's first misstep, administrators acknowledged Monday, occurred almost immediately: The call was coded at the Tallahassee-based hot line as non-urgent, meaning an investigator could take 24 hours to respond to it, instead of acting immediately. Andrea Fleary, a Miami investigator assigned to the case, did not go to the Barahona's West Miami-Dade home until about 7 p.m., and reported in case notes that no one was home, according to records and Lauren Fuentes, a child welfare administrator who spoke to the panel.
At about 9 a.m. the next morning, on Feb. 11, Fleary called the Miami-Dade school district to find the twins, but was told they were not enrolled in school, Fuentes said. The investigator returned to the home 12 hours later, past 9 p.m., and spoke with Carmen Barahona.
Police say in an arrest affidavit that Carmen admitted she "intentionally misled" Fleary during that visit -- which Carmen said happened one day earlier -- when she said the twins were living with their father, Jorge. Carmen claimed she and Jorge had separated, and Carmen did not know how to find the children.
The arrest warrants says that the next day the Barahonas took Nubia from the bathroom, where she'd been bound, and into the parents' bedroom. The Barahonas then "punched and beat (Nubia) about her body while she screamed and cried until she was dead," the affidavit said.
Her twin, Victor, never saw the girl again. When he later asked his mother where Nubia had gone, Carmen replied that she "had been sent away," a police report says.
Details of the Feb. 10 investigation, along with the report on a second hot line call from Feb. 12, were released by DCF attorneys Monday morning in response to a lawsuit filed last month by McClatchy Newspapers. The lawsuit was scheduled for a hearing Monday afternoon, but DCF released the records earlier in the day.
The records show that Fleary saw no risk in leaving the children with the Barahonas, though the reports do not show what actions Fleary took before arriving at her conclusions.
The records do not indicate what Fleary had done in the case when, at 9:05 p.m. on Feb. 12, a second hot line caller reported that Nubia had vanished and Victor had a bad cut on his lip that needed medical attention. A transcript of that hot line call released by DCF last week showed the caller was extremely concerned that neither Carmen nor Jorge Barahona would say where Nubia was.
Yet when a report of the hot line call was sent down to Miami for investigation, the report only said that Victor "has a wound on his face and lip. The wound needs stitches and he has not been taken to a hospital." The report said nothing of Nubia's disappearance.
On Monday morning, a Miami-Dade circuit judge ordered the release of two transcripts from child-welfare hearings in which a principal and teacher from Nubia's school testified the girl was "petrified" of her adoptive mother.
In the hearing at the Miami-Dade Children's Courthouse, Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia said that the transcripts -- which were requested last week by a panel investigating the girl's death -- should be released, but should also be redacted to protect the privacy of the adoptive parents' three surviving children, including Victor.
During the two hearings, which were open to the public when they were held, a different judge heard testimony that, among other things, Nubia was hoarding food in her book bag and afraid her mother would find out. Nubia also told school workers that her mother would beat her feet with sandals if called to the school to bring clean clothing.
The ruling is a reversal from last week, when the same judge sealed the transcripts at the request of lawyers for both Carmen Barahona and the Center for Family and Child Enrichment, a private foster care agency that had supervised the family at the time.
Sandy Bohrer, an attorney representing McClatchy Newspapers, spoke at the hearing in support of releasing the transcripts.
"These transcripts come out of dependency hearings which are presumably open to the public. ... It's in the best interest of these children, the public and other children to learn everything so we can hopefully avoid anything like this happening again," he said in an interview.
At the time of the 2007 and 2008 hearings that the transcripts detail, the Barahonas, then foster parents, were trying to adopt Nubia and Victor. A principal and a teacher detailed how Nubia appeared to be extremely scared of Carmen Barahona. Despite the educators' concern, the adoption was finalized.
(c) 2011, The Miami Herald.
Visit The Miami Herald Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.herald.com/.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.