Twenty-seven years after a 3-year-old girl was found unresponsive in her family's East Palo Alto home, investigators have arrested her mother in connection with the homicide, the Police Department announced on Wednesday.
Yolanda Ortega, who was 27 years old at the time, fled to Mexico with her husband prior to the San Mateo County Coroner Office's determination of the child's cause of death. Paramedics were dispatched to the family home in the 2300 block of Ralmar Avenue in East Palo Alto on June 28, 1993, at around 11:55 a.m. The child was transported to Stanford Hospital where she died at 12:43 p.m., police said. Two brothers and the sister of the girl, ages 1, 4 and 17 days old, were released to county Child Protective Services at the time.
Investigators from East Palo Alto police, the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, the San Mateo District Attorney's Office and the U.S. Marshals Service have been involved in an ongoing investigation, police said.
San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Trisha Povah, who is handling the case, said Ortega will be charged with one count each of murder and child abuse causing great bodily injury or death for the homicide of Yoani Sanchez. The Coroner's Office determined she died from blunt-force trauma. Ortega faces 25 years to life in prison.
Ortega has traveled back and forth between Mexico and the U.S., Povah said.
The Marshals Service Fugitive Apprehension Team located Ortega, now 54 years old, on July 7 at about 5:30 p.m. after she entered a shopping center parking lot in Oxnard, a city in Ventura County about 70 miles west of Los Angeles. She was arrested and booked into jail, according to police.
"From what I have seen and heard, the cause of death was absolutely horrendous. I'm thrilled they caught her," Povah said.
East Palo Alto police pursued the case for years. They did "incredible work," she said. The collaboration with the U.S. Marshals was "a really impressive effort," she added.
"The East Palo Alto Police Department is committed to investigating homicide cases and will follow every lead to locate and arrest any suspect that commits a homicide in our city," the department said a press release.
Ortega was initially held in custody in Oxnard while awaiting a transfer to San Mateo County, Povah said.
The District Attorney's Office has not released a photo of Ortega as of late Wednesday afternoon.
The 54-year-old woman was arraigned in San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City on Monday, July 13, when her bail was set at $10 million and the county's Private Defender Program was assigned to represent the case. She is scheduled to return to court on July 21 for a plea hearing.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.