Ruling on Florida parents' murder trial delayed

AP News
Posted: Nov 09, 2011 8:18 PM
Ruling on Florida parents' murder trial delayed

A judge delayed ruling Wednesday on whether a Miami couple accused of killing their adoptive daughter will be tried together while state officials released dozens of photos of the couple's family to comply with a public records request.

Prosecutors won't know until closer to trial whether they will use statements that Jorge and Carmen Barahona made against each other. Judge Sarah Zabel agreed to their request to revisit the issue later.

The Barahonas have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and child abuse charges. Authorities say they tortured their 10-year-old twins at their Miami home and prosecutors have said they are seeking the death penalty.

The body of their daughter, Nubia, was found on Valentine's Day partially decomposing and soaked in chemicals in the back of her father's truck along Interstate 95. Her twin brother, Victor, survived, but was badly burned by the chemical.

Defense attorneys wanted the couple to be tried separately. But the guardian representing the children's interests said separate trials would be more difficult on the deceased girl's twin brother, who was traumatized by her death and his alleged abuse.

The couple took the twins in as foster children in 2004 and later adopted them. They also have two other adopted children, an 11-year-old boy who is autistic and a younger daughter.

The photos of the Barahonas released by state officials depict a happy family. They show Nubia, often wearing pink and having ribbons in her blonde hair, hugging her siblings and swimming with them. Her face is smeared in frosting at a birthday party and she wears a pink princess costume in a Halloween picture.

Other pictures show Carmen and Jorge Barahonas laughing with their children on rides at an amusement park.

But authorities described a different scene at the family's Miami home. Police said the Barahonas bound the twins by their hands and feet and locked them in a bathroom for days on end. The twins had scars and other injuries indicating abuse and that they had been restrained, according to court documents.

Police said that Jorge Barahona grabbed Nubia from the bathroom on Feb. 11 and beat her to death as Victor listened to her screams. He was also injured after his lip split open. The boy was born with a cleft palate, but police said the Barahonas refused to take him to the doctor in the weeks before Nubia's death.

After the couple's arrest, police took carpet samples, a bloody T-shirt, sheets and bags of evidence from their home.

In past years, school officials warned Nubia was afraid of her mother and was hoarding food at school. One teacher said Nubia confessed that Carmen hit her, but each abuse allegation was deemed "unfounded" by child welfare officials.

A handful of DCF employees have since been fired, including the child investigator who visited the Barahonas' home in the days before Nubia's body was found.

The agency has since hired 80 new investigators and is making several internal changes, including the way hotline calls are handled and protocol ordering investigators to call police immediately if a child believed to be in danger cannot be located.

Court documents show a family falling apart, as a paranoid Jorge Barahona told authorities the girl tried to poison him by putting baby oil in his soda. He also feared she was using rat poison on him and others in the family, according to court documents.

In a rambling 2006 letter from Jorge Barahona that was released earlier this year, he said he took handfuls of prescription and over the counter medicines. Victor also told authorities the family frequently took sleeping pills.