MILWAUKEE (AP) — It's been almost a year since Maritza Ramirez-Cruz bled to death when her full-term fetus was cut from her womb, and her three surviving children don't go a day without asking about her.
The children and their father, Christian Mercado, are getting psychiatric help to deal with the horrors, which will be rehashed at the trial that starts Monday of the woman charged in the killing.
Carlos Mercado, and his fiancee, Darla Gutierrez, moved into the apartment below his son's shortly after the October 2011 attack to help care for his son and the children — daughters ages 5 and 7 and a 3-year-old son — who still don't understand what happened.
"'Where's mom? When is she coming home?' They are too young to comprehend that," Gutierrez said.
Morales-Rodriguez, 34, is accused of faking a pregnancy, panicking as her supposed due date approached and then luring the 23-year-old Ramirez-Cruz to her house. There she attacked her with a baseball bat, choked her and then used an X-Acto knife to cut the fetus out, according to the criminal complaint.
According to court documents, Morales-Rodriguez had a couple of miscarriages and her boyfriend wanted a son. Prosecutors say she planned for two weeks to look for a pregnant woman and take her baby. She found Ramirez-Cruz, who was due any day, around a nonprofit organization that provides Hispanics with social services and offered her a ride.
Ramirez-Cruz died of blood loss and asphyxiation, and her fetus, a boy, died as a result of her death, authorities say.
Morales-Rodriguez is charged with two counts of intentional homicide, including homicide of an unborn child. 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 original lawyers had planned to use an insanity defense, but her new lawyers changed her plea Thursday to not guilty. A court-ordered doctor didn't find evidence to support the insanity plea.
A judge also ruled last week that an incriminating statement she made to a detective in an emergency room would be admissible at trial, even though the detective failed to explain her right to remain silent. He ruled it admissible under a public welfare or emergency rescue exception because police didn't know yet that Ramirez-Cruz was dead.
Gutierrez and Carlos Mercado said they hope the trial brings peace of mind to the family.
"They are just dragging it on and dragging it on and the family needs closure," Gutierrez said.
Mercado said he will be at his son's side during the trial.
"I have to go with him," he said, as he wiped away tears. "It's going to be hard for me and hard for him. I have to help him."
The trial is expected to last a week, with the state calling 25 to 30 witnesses. Prosecutor Mark Williams said he plans to play Morales-Rodriguez's videotaped confession to police. Morales-Rodriguez's lawyers have declined to discuss the case, and it wasn't known whether she plans to testify.
Mercado and Gutierrez said they don't think they could ever forgive her.
"They always teach you to forgive but something like this, no," Gutierrez said. "You see everything Maritza had in her in her daughters."
They hope she is convicted and gets life without parole.
"I want the judge to recognize what she did and give her what she deserves," Mercado said.
Similar cases of women taking an unborn child from a mother's womb were reported in Massachusetts and Oregon in 2009, in Pennsylvania in 2007, in Illinois in 2006 and Missouri in 2004.