Wednesday, June 14, 2000

Neighbors heard baby screaming

Mother may face charge of murder

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Oma Rutherford will never forget the screams of the infant across the street.

        For three straight nights last week, the persistent crying of 11-week-old Maria Zilua-Gomez kept Mrs. Rutherford awake. “You can tell the difference between a normal cry and a scream from pain,” said Mrs. Rutherford, who lives on Sycamore Street in Hamilton's high-crime District 2. “This was a scream. It sounded like she was being tortured.”

        Mrs. Rutherford decided Friday she would ask authorities this week to investigate Maria's parents.

        But she was too late.

        Late Friday afternoon, Maria's 16-year-old mother took her to Mercy Hospital Hamilton after she stopped breathing. Maria died Monday at Children's Hospital Medical Center after being taken off life support.

        The baby suffered multiple broken bones and bruises — injuries so severe that staff at Children's told police “it was one of the worst physical abuse cases they've seen in many, many years,” said Hamilton Police Sgt. Jim Malone.

        The baby's mother, whom the Enquirer is not identifying because she is a juvenile, is accused of shaking Maria and grabbing her by her face, Frederick Saurber, chief juvenile court probation officer, said at the mother's arraignment Tuesday.

        The infant's father, Ramon Zilua-Gomez, has been accused of striking the baby in the back with his fist.

        Authorities are considering filing murder charges against Maria's mother, who is being held at the Butler County Juvenile Detention Center, and Mr. Zilua-Gomez, who is at the Butler County Jail.

        Mr. Zilua-Gomez, 21, has been charged with felonious assault and child endangering. The mother faces the same charges in the juvenile court system.

        Maria's mother said nothing at the hearing. But her mother complained to Magistrate Thomas Humbach that a $100,000 bond had been set for Mr. Zilua-Gomez, but no bond had been set for her daughter.

        “How can they give Ramon a bond and not set a bond for my daughter?” she asked. “How can they do that?”

        Magistrate Humbach said a bond could be discussed after the court appoints an attorney for Maria's mother.

        A pretrial hearing was set for next Tuesday.

        He said her case could be sent directly to a Butler County grand jury and she could be tried as an adult.

        Investigators think the abuse began shortly after the baby was born on March 27 and continued until her death, Sgt. Malone said.

        He said the mother and father gave statements that led police to think they initially hurt the child because it would not stop crying.

        “Then it cried more, and they couldn't deal with it,” he said.

        Police think the mother's age made her ill-prepared to care for a child. The infant's parents have shown “no remorse whatsoever,” Sgt. Malone said.

        Police were still trying to determine whether Mr. Zilua-Gomez, who worked for a dry-wall business, was living legally in the United States, Sgt. Malone said.

        Butler County Children's Services had received no complaints against Maria's parents, said Kathy Vallance, the agency's executive director.

        This is the second death of a child this year in the 600 block of Sycamore Street.

        Maria lived in a second-floor apartment above a corner grocery, Sycamore Market, at Sycamore and Sixth streets.

        Two-year-old Brandi Fuller lived in the house next door to the grocery. She died of multiple injuries March 27. Her father, Christopher Fuller, is accused of sexually assaulting her and killing her. He is in the Butler County Jail.

        Mrs. Rutherford said she deeply regrets not notifying authorities about her suspicions that Maria was being abused. She said she and too many other neighbors failed the infant.

        “We're the silent killers for keeping our mouths shut,” she said. “I think I'll hear that baby screaming for the rest of my life.”

        Enquirer reporter Janice Morse contributed.


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