by Kimberly Rubio, assistant editor
Sabrina Vielma was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Thursday for her 4-year-old son’s violent death on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011, and she will be eligible for parole in nine years.
Prosecutors were not allowed to show a video interview in which Vielma’s co-defendant, Cel’ves Cook, said Davaughn’s mother admitted to killing her child in anger.
When the four-day hearing ended at the Medina County Jail, district attorney Daniel J. Kindred told Davaughn’s father and other paternal family members what Cook alleged in a recorded video interview with 38th Judicial District Attorney’s Office investigators.
Cook alleges Vielma, speaking one month after Davaughn’s death, said she was smoking marijuana in her room when the boy asked for lunch. According to Cook, the child was being loud, which aggravated Vielma. She began striking the child but did not mean to kill him.
Cook did not testify during the sentencing hearing, although he was previously subpoenaed by the defense.
Vielma’s defense attorneys say Cook delivered the fatal blow that fractured Davaughn’s skull and that Vielma’s only crime was failing to protect her son.
Last month, as part of a plea agreement that eliminated punishment by death, Vielma admitted to intentionally and knowingly causing serious bodily injury to Davaughn by striking him with her hands and/or an instrument or failing to prevent his death.
The plea downgraded previous charges of capital murder to injury to a child by omission, a first degree felony. Her punishment could have ranged from five to 99 years in prison. The agreement came about after Vielma requested to have her attorney and his staff removed from the case over lack of communication. If granted, Kindred said the action would have taken the prosecution back to square one.
Vielma, now 35, was recently sentenced to five years in prison for two felony charges she received in 2017, one for harboring a fugitive and the other for tampering with evidence. The crimes were committed while Vielma was on pre-trial release, and the five-year sentences will be served concurrently with her punishment for Davaughn’s death.
Kindred told Davaughn’s father, Dion Rodriguez, Cook claims he was not present when Vielma allegedly assaulted her son.
Cook said he babysat Davaughn on Dec. 10, 2011, while Vielma went to work at a local salon. When she returned in the afternoon, Cook left, spent the night with another woman, and didn’t return until early the next morning.
At that time, Cook said, he discovered Davaughn dead on the kitchen floor.
He says he threw a blanket over the child’s body and left after telling Vielma not to tell law enforcement that he had been at the 404 N. Wood St. apartment.
Cook pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence. He has agreed to serve 12 years in prison, with credit for the nearly three years he served in the Uvalde County Jail between January of 2014 and September of 2017.
Testimony from Uvalde Memorial Hospital employees, investigators, DNA experts and family members took place all day Monday and Tuesday. The court recessed at 11 a.m. Wednesday and resumed Thursday morning. The defense rested at approximately 11 a.m., and final arguments began at 1 p.m.
“On the Friday before his death he was a happy, healthy boy – until he was released into [Vielma’s] care. Twenty-four hours later he was dead on the kitchen floor…,” Kindred said of Davaughn. “We don’t know how many times he said ‘I’m sorry’ or how many times he said ‘stop.’”
Kindred took a moment to compose himself before continuing.
“It is a natural law that a mother will protect her children. Even an animal protects its offspring.
“We have this portrait,” Kindred said, pointing to a collage of photos depicting Davaughn as a happy, healthy green-eyed boy who attended Dalton Early Childhood Center.
“She is not responsible for that portrait. This is the portrait she is responsible for,” Kindred said, showing an image of Davaughn’s battered body.
Davaughn’s pediatrician, Dr. John Preddy, who was at the hospital when Vielma arrived with her son, described the body as gray. Preddy said Davaughn had blood around his face and multiple bruises and abrasions all over his body, including his groin.
He endured multiple blunt traumatic injuries on his face, but it was a complex occipital skull fracture that extended to the base of his skull that ended the boy’s life.
“None of us can begin to comprehend the tragic loss of Davaughn. The pain experienced by his family, including Sabrina. She has the additional pain of knowing she could have prevented his death,” said Steve Pickell, who represented Vielma. “The state offered 12 years to the man I believe killed that boy. I would urge the court that 12 years is also appropriate for Ms. Vielma.”
Pickell’s co-counsel Clay Steadman said Vielma suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, better known as PTSD, and is also bi-polar.
Steadman also noted Cook’s, not Vielma’s, DNA was found on Davaughn’s bloodied shirt and kitchen towel.
When assistant prosecutor Julie Solis addressed Judge Ables, she reminded him that Vielma was not present for a tree dedication ceremony held in Davaughn’s honor at Dalton Early Childhood Center.
Vielma’s sister Christina Garcia said Friday in telephone call to the Leader-News office that Vielma was not allowed to attend the tree dedication ceremony.
Solis also noted that Vielma failed to pick up schoolwork completed by Davaughn in the months before his death.
“She treated that artwork like his body, like trash,” Solis said, referring to Vielma delivering Davaughn’s body, wrapped in a towel, to Uvalde Memorial Hospital.
When asked if she wanted to address the court, Vielma said, “I am sorry, judge.”
Ables said Cook’s proposed 12-year sentence, via a plea agreement, isn’t harsh enough. Ables, who was assigned to preside over Cook’s case as well as Vielma’s, will be the one to officially approve Cook’s plea agreement. It is set to be considered on Tuesday.
“This has been a difficult case…,” Ables said. “I agree with the state’s argument that a parent’s first obligation is to protect their child.
“I don’t know what happened that night,” the judge continued. “I think if I had a jury here they would be just as frustrated as I am that we don’t know who hit that baby so hard that it cracked his skull.”
During a victim’s impact statement, Davaughn’s paternal aunt Melinda Gamez told Ables an 18-year sentence isn’t enough for Vielma.
“Eighteen years, judge? D doesn’t even get to be 18,” Gamez said, referring to Davaughn by his nickname.
She continued with messages for Vielma and Vielma’s mother, Frances Garcia, who took custody of Vielma’s older child prior to Davaughn’s death.
“We will never know if you did it, but we do know you failed. But God will judge you one day,” she said to Vielma, before addressing Garcia. “I wish you would have taken D too, Frances.”
When the court adjourned, the Rodriguez family told Kindred 18 years was not a justified sentence.
Words were exchanged between Davaughn’s maternal and paternal family members before Garcia’s daughter, Christina Garcia, said “That is enough. It is over.”
After Vielma’s relatives left the courtroom, Solis handed a box filled with Davaughn’s school artwork to his father, who sobbed.
Kindred also expressed disappointment in Vielma’s sentence.
“I am very disappointed. I believe she should have received more time than that,” Kindred said. “I feel bad for the family. It has been a long haul, but at the end of the day we don’t make the final decision. The decision is always left to a jury or judge.”
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