Evelyn Beltran died four months after being reunited with her mother in the United States. The gregarious 5-year-old girl was the victim of severe child abuse. "Simple words cannot express the horror that this poor child must have gone through," DuPage State's Attorney Joseph Birkett said afterward. "She was systematically beaten until her little body could no longer absorb the blows
He promised: "We will prosecute this horrific case to the fullest extent of the law." But did law enforcement arrest the right person? Testimony begins today in the haunting trial of a Woodridge mother accused of killing her daughter July 6, 2007.
Prosecutors charged Christina Beltran with first-degree murder after they said she incriminated herself in two videotaped police interviews. The 24-year-old woman insists, however, her former boyfriend - with whom she lived at the time - is the real killer. She argues he manipulated her into taking the blame because he would be a better provider for their then 15-month-old twin sons.
The tragic story of a beautiful little girl whose life began and ultimately ended in violence is revealed in court records, autopsy findings and family interviews.
A new life
Christina Beltran only had a couple years of schooling while growing up in impoverished Morelos. She has a below-average IQ of about 78 and is near illiterate. At 18, she became a mother after an older relative impregnated her during a rape in Mexico.
Beltran left Evelyn behind with an aunt to look for work in the United States, where her older brother lived. She found a job at a fast-food restaurant and met her boyfriend, Victor M. Jimenez, 27, a landscaper who works with her brother. She soon became pregnant.
They moved into an apartment on the 8100 block of Waterbury Court in Woodridge and began raising twin infant sons. But Beltran didn't forget about Evelyn, also sometimes spelled Evelin in reports. The couple sent $150 a month back to Mexico for her care.
The defendant's brother, Jaime Najera, and his longtime girlfriend, Guadalupe Espinoza of Bolingbrook, said Beltran called Evelyn regularly and kept prodding Jimenez to send for the girl. In March 2007, they paid $2,800 for Evelyn to come to the United States.
"She missed Evelyn so much, but they have economic problems and she wanted to give her a better life here," Espinoza said. "When Evelyn came here, I saw (Beltran) crying because she was so happy.
"(Evelyn) was always playing and jumping around. She was a happy girl."
But the last time they saw Evelyn, she was withdrawn and complained of a bad stomach ache. The couple, who said they never saw any violence, had no idea the severity of her illness.
It was about 6 p.m. Friday, July 6, 2007, when Christina Beltran drove her unresponsive 5-year-old daughter to an Edward Hospital immediate care facility in Bolingbrook.
Paramedics rushed Evelyn from there to Naperville's Edward Hospital, where Jimenez met them after dropping the twins off with his family. Evelyn never regained consciousness. Dr. Huang Kim pronounced her dead at 6:25 p.m. Suspecting child abuse, Kim alerted authorities. The autopsy later confirmed his suspicions.
Forensic pathologist Scott Denton's report documented the horrors that someone inflicted upon the 3-foot, 6-inch, 41-pound child. Denton determined Evelyn died of blunt trauma to her head.
She had a severe intestinal infection due to an earlier untreated abdominal injury - due to a blow to the stomach - that was causing her to lose control of her bladder.
Evelyn had old and new injuries that included arm and rib fractures, retinal bleeding, dozens of bruises and cuts, and circular scars on her buttocks that Denton opined may be healing cigarette burns
Police said both Beltran and Jimenez initially were suspects. Dr. Kim told authorities Jimenez refused to answer his questions at the hospital, saying: "I'm not talking to anyone until I talk to (Beltran)." Meanwhile, Beltran suffered an emotional breakdown after learning of Evelyn's death
Authorities said a nonsensical Beltran shouted she was pregnant, still living in Mexico and "selling hot cakes." The hospital staff subdued her with leather restraints after she tried to strangle herself with bedsheets
She came to hours later and, at 5:45 a.m. July 7, began a 45-minute videotaped interview with police investigators. Beltran later was admitted to Linden Oaks Hospital in Naperville for further psychiatric evaluation.
On July 13, working with police, Jimenez wore a wire beneath his clothing while picking up Beltran after she was released. Authorities said Beltran incriminates herself again during her secretly recorded conversation with Jimenez. The couple then drove with investigators to the DuPage County Children's Center in Wheaton for more questioning.
Police arrested Beltran after a second 85-minute videotaped interview. She remains in jail on a $2 million bond. The twins were placed in protective custody. Authorities said the boys showed no signs of abuse.
At her arraignment, Beltran cried out that she was innocent. The defendant told authorities she heard Jimenez yelling at Evelyn that night in the bathroom, followed by a loud "thump."
During an Aug. 21, 2007, preliminary hearing, Jimenez testified Beltran began beating Evelyn about six weeks after she arrived.
"She would grab her by the hair and pull her and drag her from here to there," Jimenez testified. "Once or twice, she would throw her, push her. She would hit her with an open hand, on her little face, on her hands, on her back. Wherever she could reach, she would hit."
Jimenez said Beltran told Evelyn she hated her and, after he asked why, she explained it was because the child was the product of a rape, that she should have given Evelyn away.
"I used to talk to her and tell her, 'You need to change because, you know, we're going to be in trouble; they're going to take our children away,'" Jimenez testified.
"Every time that she would start hitting Evelyn, I would intervene. I would get involved and then we would end up arguing."
His initial denial to ever striking Evelyn prompted a sobbing Beltran to scream out in court. Upon the defense's cross-examination, the man admitted he had struck Evelyn as a form of punishment but he denied ever using much force.
The night Evelyn died, Jimenez said Beltran repeatedly hit her daughter's head against the floor after the child defecated on the couch. Jimenez testified he later tried to help Evelyn shower, but she could barely stand, so he put her to bed. He said Beltran was hiding in the closet and he convinced her one hour after the beating to take Evelyn for help.
By then, it was too late.
The court battle
Lawyers on both sides are expected to argue passionately. Beltran and Jimenez are the only witnesses to the violence. There's no physical evidence proving which one inflicted the fatal injuries. Neither has a violent criminal history. Both are expected to testify.
The defense team questions the reliability of those recordings since Beltran was medicated, just suffered a severe breakdown and attempted suicide. Her lawyers argue she was easily manipulated by Jimenez, who wasn't working regularly at the time because of an injury, further fueling the couple's financial problem and tensions in the apartment.
Jimenez has never been charged with any wrongdoing.
"Victor Jimenez maintains his innocence, as he has from the beginning of this case, in the tragic death of Evelyn, and states unequivocally that he played no part in inflicting her fatal injuries," said his attorney, Bill Worobec. "He has been cooperative with law enforcement officials at every juncture, and we will continue to be, in the interest of justice."
After Evelyn's death, Jaime Najera and Guadalupe Espinoza gave her a funeral and sent the little girl's remains back to Mexico for burial.
A photo of the brown-eyed, long raven-haired girl sits squarely in the middle of their mantle with a rosary draped over its frame.
"We don't know what happened," Espinoza said. "Everybody said Christina did it, but (Jimenez) lived in the same apartment. How come he never said anything to us? We could have taken the baby. We just want to know the truth; what really happened to Evelyn?"