MERCED – The trial of a couple accused of killing a Planada woman
and kidnapping her baby was in its final stage Thursday, with prosecutors
calling the female defendant “the brain” and her boyfriend
“the muscle” in the murder-kidnap plot.
Maria Ceja Robles and Jose Augustine Velarde are accused of killing Ana
Lila Diaz DeCeja on Dec. 2, 2010, and kidnapping her 2-month-old son,
In closing arguments, Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II told
jurors Thursday that Ceja Robles is an egocentric and “practiced
liar” who manipulated and controlled Velarde.
“Velarde would have done anything for this woman. And he did. He
murdered,” Morse said. “She didn’t care about Ana’s
family losing the baby. She only cared about herself … this is
a scary woman, ladies and gentleman.”
Prosecutors believe Ceja Robles used her friendship with the victim to
lure her inside the couple’s home under the guise of looking at
knitted baby scarves.
Ceja Robles claimed on the stand that Velarde strangled the victim before
burning her body and disposing it in an orchard near Snelling. Ceja Robles
has said she was inside the bathroom and unaware that Velarde killed DeCeja.
The baby was later found alive on the doorstep of a Le Grand home. He was
placed naked inside a pillow case, according to testimony.
But Morse said Ceja Robles had a plan to steal the infant, and she even
told detectives after her arrest she wanted the baby after holding him
a day prior to the murder. “Once Ceja (Robles) made the decision
‘This is the baby I want,’ Ana’s fate was sealed,”
Morse said. “Kidnapping Anthony to raise as their own only worked
if Ana died.”
As part of the plot, Ceja Robles had asked a man at a park if he would
steal a baby and “hit” its mother for $1,500, Morse said.
Though Velarde used his physical strength to take DeCeja’s life,
Morse said, he believes Ceja Robles helped during the five-minute strangulation.
The prosecution played a timed countdown of five minutes, illustrating
the length of time it took to kill DeCeja. “That tells us it must
have been one hell of a fight,” Morse said. “The evidence
shows it took both of them to do it.”
Ceja Robles said she was inside the bathroom, with the fan running and
her hands covering her ears during the killing, which Morse called “ridiculous
on so many levels.”
Jeffrey Tenenbaum, Ceja Robles’ attorney, challenged jurors to think about his client’s
accountability and intent, especially because she didn’t kill the victim.
“What we know from the evidence is that the man that sat here –
Mr. Velarde – strangled DeCeja and killed her,” Tenenbaum
said. “So the question then becomes, since he killed her, what is
the legal liability of Maria Ceja (Robles)?”
Tenenbaum said Ceja Robles endured physical and sexual abuse during her
relationship with Velarde and in her two prior marriages. Records support
the abuse allegations, including 911 calls and medical charts, he said.
Ceja Robles “did the best she could” to tell everyone what
happened during eight days of testimony, Tenenbaum said. He said she didn’t
understand the detectives’ questions after her arrest because they
Tenenbaum said Ceja Robles, who became hooked on methamphetamine at the
hands of Velarde, had no idea he would kill the victim.
“Your job is to look at the evidence and ask yourself, has intent
been proven?” Tenenbaum said. “Because right now, it’s
completely unclear that she had any intent to do anything wrong to Ms.
During his rebuttal, Morse said the prosecution has proven its case and
the most difficult decision the jury needs to make is selecting a foreman.
“You know right down to your toes what happened on December 2,”
Morse said. “She killed Ana whether she put her hands on her throat
or not. She’s every bit as guilty.”
Yanira Granados, 22, the victim’s cousin, said she’s anxious
for the jury to return a verdict and relieved the nearly one-month trial
is almost over.
“This has been a test for all of us. How do you keep self-control
when you know the person who murdered someone in your family is sitting
in front of you?” Granados said. “She (Ceja Robles) only gets
emotional when it has to do with her. She doesn’t care about Ana.”