Escondido Couple Accused Of Toddler Beating Death In Court
Investigator: 'Worst Case Of Child Abuse He's Ever Seen'

POSTED: 8:24 am PST January 17, 2006
UPDATED: 8:34 am PST January 17, 2006

VISTA, Calif. -- A preliminary hearing is scheduled Tuesday for an Escondido couple accused of beating to death the woman's 2-year-old son in what a police investigator called the worst case of child abuse he's ever seen.

Jose Maurice Castenada, 21, could face the death penalty if convicted of murder and a special circumstance allegation of torture in the death of Cesar Razo last June 25.

Castenada and the child's mother, 23-year-old Maria Razo, were arrested shortly after the toddler died of cardiac arrest at Palomar Medical Center.

Prosecutor Lucille Weismantel said in court documents that the defendants regularly assaulted the child and his then-5-year-old sister after they began living on Bear Valley Parkway in October 2004.

The children were choked and struck with hangers, belts, a cable and the defendants' hands, Weismantel wrote. The toddler was also made to live and sleep in a bedroom closet, according to the prosecutor.

Swabs for DNA testing were taken from red stains found in the closet and a bathtub, among other places, according to court documents.

Weismantel alleged that on the day the boy died, Castenada became enraged when the child was heard crying in a closet. He beat the child, strangled him into unconsciousness and kicked him in the head and stomach, the prosecutor alleged.

The child died about a half-hour after arrival at the hospital.

During their arraignment last July, Judge Aaron Katz ordered dental X-rays and impressions to be taken from the defendants because bite marks were allegedly found on the victim's arm during an autopsy.

Escondido police Sgt. Chris Wynn said the number and severity of the toddler's injuries made it the worst case of child abuse he's seen in his career.

The defendants are being held without bail because they're allegedly in the country illegally.