As Melanie Beltran lay dying on the floor, her 5-year-old body covered
in bruises, her mother ordered her six other children to clean up the
house. The police were coming.
Paramedics arrived to find the mother, Mila Petrov, 29, kneeling over
Melanie in the living room.
"I've done everything I can do," Petrov said aloud, according to an
account of the incident in state documents reviewed Monday by the
Then she pointed to another of her daughters: "She did it," she said.
In the days after Melanie's death last week, child welfare workers
interviewed the girl's siblings and others involved in the incident.
Their reports portray a violent home where parents punched Melanie in
the face with their fists, tied her to beds with belts and fed her hot
peppers as punishment.
"There are secrets in the house," one of Melanie's siblings allegedly
told child welfare workers. "We don't tell."
According to the state documents, Melanie's siblings denied being
physically abused but told workers that their parents allowed them to
"Everyone hit Melanie because she touched our things," a sibling told
a state worker.
Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris said Melanie's case is a
classic example of an abuse phenomenon where only one child is
targeted by parents, but the others pay a terrible price.
"All of these kids, to an extent, they were abused, essentially raised
in a climate of violence, taught violence," Harris said. "From my
perspective, all of these kids are in the same boat."
On Monday a judge denied bail for Petrov, who is charged with
murdering her daughter. The judge refused to let Petrov leave jail to
pay her last respects and said the woman could not visit with her
seven surviving children, including a boy she gave birth to on
Wednesday, the day Melanie died.
Cook County Circuit Judge Earl Hoffenberg approved a public defender's
request to put Petrov on suicide watch.
When Petrov entered the courtroom Monday, she waved and smiled at her
mother and the man she calls her common-law husband.
The man, who was at work during Melanie's final beating, has not been
charged. But prosecutors told reporters Monday that they are
investigating whether he had any role in abusing the girl.
Assistant State's Atty. Martin Moore outlined in court how Petrov gave
Melanie two black eyes on March 12 for "being bad," then beat her the
next day. The girl lost consciousness and died Wednesday afternoon at
Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.
Moore told the judge that Melanie also had been injured previously,
including old burns from scalding bath water, a broken nose, bruises
on her abdomen and marks that suggested she had been beaten with a
cord across her abdomen and legs. Scars above her ankles suggested she
had been tied with a rope, the prosecutor said.
Petrov told investigators that the girl was the most troublesome of
the couple's seven children--because of lying, urinating on the carpet
and throwing up--and had to be punished often, according to Moore.
The prosecutor said Petrov admitted tying the girl's feet together at
times and keeping her in a closet when Petrov needed to leave home.
Moore said in court that the beating that led to Melanie's death
started on Tuesday afternoon when Petrov woke up from a nap in their
condominium near Des Plaines.
After Melanie threw up on a towel in the bedroom, Petrov hit her in
the back of the head, slamming the front of her head into a wall,
according to Moore.
Petrov led Melanie into the living room, threatening to feed her hot
sauce as a punishment for lying, Moore said. After Petrov struck the
child some more, Melanie stopped breathing and lost consciousness,
Petrov said nothing during the hearing, but her lawyer suggested
Petrov is in danger in jail. Public Defender Wendy Schilling told
Hoffenberg that Petrov has been shouted at and given threatening looks
by inmates in the Maywood lockup where she has been held since her
"She has indicated to me that people have been yelling at her and
pointing at her," Schilling said.
After the hearing, Schilling responded to Sheriff Thomas Dart, who had
called Petrov "an animal" when announcing the first-degree murder
charges on Sunday.
"My client is a human being," Schilling said (I think this is highly debatable)
Prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty if
Petrov is convicted, but they said she would be eligible for it.
Investigators are looking at the possibility that Petrov had another
child who died. Officials found a birth certificate for a child born
in the 1990s. Petrov allegedly told the investigators that the child
died at 3 months of age of sudden infant death syndrome.
Petrov's surviving children, the oldest of whom is 10, have been
placed with relatives while the Illinois Department of Children and
Family Services investigates the family. The agency had no previous
contact with the family, according to spokesman Kendall Marlowe.
No records have come to light showing anyone outside the home knew of
In addition to the interviews with Melanie's siblings, state workers
questioned medical workers about the care the girl received at the
A doctor told state workers this is one of the worst cases of abuse he
has seen. "The child was definitely a victim of long-term excessive
physical abuse," the doctor said. "The ongoing abuse is at the hands
of an adult."
He said Melanie had old and new scars, ligature marks around her
ankles and "raccoon eyes from being beaten."
"She has burn marks on her feet, a battered face," the doctor
reported. "She has linear marks on her belly, which could be from
being hit by a ruler. Her entire back--shoulder to shoulder, neck to
waist--is burned ... from hot oil or grease."
A photograph taken of Melanie in her hospital bed as she lay dying
showed she had thick hair and full eyebrows. Covered in bandages,
blood dripped from her nose.
Melanie had a bruised left eye, a tube in her mouth and wore cartoon
One caseworker who saw Melanie at the hospital noted: "She is bruised
from her head to her toes."