After more than seven years and two mistrials, Erika Mendieta has finally been convicted in the beating death of her 2-year-old daughter.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Nola Garton ruled that she does not believe Mendieta’s protests of innocence or the claims of guilt by Johnny Bermudez, Mendieta’s former boyfriend.
In three separate proceedings, Bermudez testified he was to blame for the death of tiny Emmily Lucas after he lashed out at the little girl in the former couple’s North York home.
“I totally reject his complete fabrication,” Garton told a packed courtroom Monday.
She added that she didn’t find Mendieta credible. “I do not believe Ms. Mendieta’s evidence that she did not cause Emmily’s injuries.”
She said it is very likely the two colluded.
Mendieta claimed that for months she believed Emmily’s injuries were caused by an accidental fall down some stairs.
But in a ruling that took four hours to read aloud, Garton found the 34-year-old mother of five not guilty of the second-degree murder with which she was charged, but guilty of manslaughter.
She returns for sentencing Feb. 11.
The judge found that although Mendieta angrily beat her cranky toddler, she never intended to kill her.
“Ms Mendieta gave in to her emotions and her frustration,” the judge said. But once she realized Emmily was unconscious and badly hurt, she called 911 immediately and did everything she could to save her, Garton added. “She was in a panic.”
It was a long road to justice for Mendieta. Her case suffered several missteps, one last November after jurors complained that a Crown lawyer no longer involved in the case distracted them by making faces as he sat in court.
It was also a case marked by high drama, not least Monday night after Mendieta, who had been free on bail awaiting trial, was handcuffed and led away by guards from the courtroom.
As Selina Lucas, the aunt who had raised Emmily, started crying, the handcuffed Mendieta turned to her and angrily accused her of playing to the media. “Why is she f—ing crying?” Mendieta yelled. “Why don’t you go away.”
In the corridor outside, Blanca Parra, Mendieta’s 18-year-old daughter cried inconsolably, hugged by Derrick Parra, 35, who is both her and little Emmily’s biological father.
Parra later told reporters that Blanca is afraid she will lose her mother forever now that she has been convicted, but that he tried to reassure her that it’s not the case.
Parra added that he is extremely sad for his family, despite the verdict. “We move on in life now. My daughter can rest in peace.”
He noted that Emmily would have turned 10 on Jan. 7.
“Justice has finally come through.”
But Jauna Nakata, Mendieta’s mother, protested that her daughter would never harm Emmily. “My daughter is innocent,” she said, in tears.
Neither Crown prosecutor Allison MacPherson nor defence lawyers Robin Parker and Bob Richardson spoke to the media after the verdict.
Emmily Lucas was beaten to the point of convulsions on Nov. 13, 2003. The tot’s body was covered in bruises. Her head and spinal column were severely injured. She died of brain trauma at Sick Kids 10 days later.
Bermudez, Mendieta’s former live-in boyfriend, took the rap in court — testifying that he lashed out at Emmily in a fit of anger in the then-couple’s home near Steeles Ave. and Jane St.
But he testified only under the protection of the Canada Evidence Act, so his testimony couldn’t be used to prosecute him.
Mendieta’s first trial ended with a hung jury in 2009.
Her second trial spiralled into controversy late last year, when the jury asked that a man be removed from the courtroom for making distracting faces during Mendieta’s testimony.
They didn’t know that the man was Paul Alexander, an assistant Crown attorney who prosecuted Mendieta at her first trial but was no longer on the case.
Mendieta also claimed that he threw her off when she was giving her evidence. Garton declared a mistrial and discharged the jury.
Garton then agreed to rule on the case alone, using evidence from the second trial.