MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee woman accused of killing a pregnant woman and trying to steal her fetus described the attack in a video prosecutors played for jurors Wednesday, telling investigators she repeatedly bashed the victim in the head with a baseball bat before choking her to death.
Prosecutors played about 38 minutes of a 90-minute police interview conducted with Annette Morales-Rodriguez last October. In the recording, she describes how she attacked 23-year-old Maritza Ramirez-Cruz and then performed a crude cesarean section with a small blade in the hopes she could pass the baby off as her own.
The 34-year-old has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the death of the mother and her full-term fetus. A conviction on either count carries a mandatory life sentence, although a judge could allow for the possibility of parole. Wisconsin does not have the death penalty.
Her public defender contends the homicides weren't intentional.
As the video played, Morales-Rodriguez sat silently in the courtroom, her head bowed as she stared at the table where she was sitting.
In the recording, she sits at a desk in a small interrogation room, sobbing and sniffling and occasionally covering her face with her hands. Her voice is generally unwavering, but she pauses frequently and sighs heavily. She speaks in Spanish, with police detective Rodolfo Gomez translating her words into English.
She tells Gomez her boyfriend desperately wanted a son, but she couldn't "stay pregnant."
"The doctor said the problem was me," she said in English during a second videotaped interview.
In the first video, she says she faked two previous pregnancies, each time claiming she miscarried. She says she eventually faked a third pregnancy. When Gomez asks how she planned to extricate herself from that lie, she tells him she figured she could claim another miscarriage but she also considered other options. Those included committing suicide, telling her boyfriend the truth and stealing a baby from a pregnant woman.
She describes how she met Ramirez-Cruz at a community center that provides social services for Hispanics. She says Ramirez-Cruz accepted her offer of a ride.
Morales-Rodriguez first took her to a drugstore for anti-nausea medication. Prosecutors played surveillance video showing the women shopping together. As the video played, the victim's husband, Christian Mercado, sat on the edge of his seat in the courtroom gallery, straining to see the images of his wife's last moments alive.
Morales-Rodriguez told investigators she began to panic after leaving the store, unsure whether she could go through with her planned assault. She says she stopped at home briefly, leaving the younger woman in the car. But then Ramirez-Cruz came inside to use the bathroom. Morales-Rodriguez decided to attack.
"The girl came out of the bathroom and she hit her with a bat. A wooden bat," Gomez says, translating Morales-Rodriguez's words in the video. "She hit her twice in the head."
With no urging, Morales-Rodriguez volunteers details of a fight in which she continued beating the victim until Ramirez-Cruz's eyeglasses broke. She describes choking Ramirez-Cruz until she passes out, putting duct tape over her eyes and nose, and wrapping a plastic bag around her head.
She says she cleaned up the blood and threw the victim's belongings in the trash. She then returned to the body to slice the victim open from one hip to the other with a small blade and pulled out the stillborn boy.
Also Wednesday, prosecutor Mark Williams showed jurors a number of graphic photos, including a picture of the victim's disemboweled abdomen. One juror put her hand over her mouth. Another rested his forehead on his palm and briefly looked away.
During cross-examination, Gomez confirmed to public defender Debra Patterson that Morales-Rodriguez said she was "sorry for the girl" and never meant for the baby to die.
Mercado, a Spanish-speaker, brought his family to Wisconsin from Arecibo, Puerto Rico about two years ago. He testified Wednesday about kissing his wife goodbye the morning she disappeared and telling her he loved her.
He called her about 9:20 a.m., saying he was worried because she had been having some pain. It was the last time they spoke.
When he called again about 11 a.m., she didn't answer.
"I got chest pains," he said through a translator. "I left work at noon to look for her."
The trial, which began Tuesday, could go to the jury as early as Thursday. The defense has declined to say whether Morales-Rodriguez will testify.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.