We've posted on this case before. Note that this case follows a very familiar pattern: the abusive father (in this case CLINTON HART) who manages to get custody, then totally excludes the mother. In this instance, the mother did not see her daughter again till she was hospitalized in critical condition. Unfortunately, the girl did not survive long enough to see her mom.
Vanessa Hart's family wants death penalty for Clinton Hart, girlfriend Marina Navarro
By Emiley Morgan
Published: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 3:23 p.m. MDT
SALT LAKE CITY — The last time Stephanie Alfaro saw her little girl, the 4-year-old was undergoing surgery in a futile attempt to save her life.
That hospital visit was also the first time Vanessa Hart's mother had seen her in 1 1/2 years, said Stephanie Medina, Vanessa's stepgrandmother.
Vanessa later died from massive head injuries police say were caused by her father's girlfriend.
According to Medina, Alfaro agreed to let the girl's father, Clinton Hart, 21, take Vanessa and her younger brother, Anthony, for a weekend. But Alfaro never saw her daughter again, as Hart moved and rarely responded to the woman's text messages and phone calls. Occasionally he would tell the woman he'd bring the children back, but never did.
Hart and his girlfriend, Marina Navarro, 21, both are facing charges in connection with the girl's death. Navarro is charged with criminal homicide/aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, and three counts of second-degree felony child abuse. Hart is charged with first-degree felony murder and two counts of intentionally inflicting serious injury on a child, both second-degree felonies.
Alfaro wasn't at Wednesday's scheduling hearing in 3rd District Court because Medina said the woman was too "emotional" to be there. Medina sat outside the hearings with the girl's aunts, who were holding pictures of the small girl and a poster calling for "Justice for Vanessa Hart."
"We're doing OK so far," Medina said. "We're just trying to understand why. How they could do this? We've got questions, and we want answers. It's just really difficult. We want justice for what was done."
Medina has a clear idea of what justice would mean for Vanessa, who she called a "happy little child who loved to play."
"I believe in eye for an eye, just like the Sloops," she said. "We want justice for her life like they did for little Ethan. … Give them the death penalty."
The case has some similarities to that of Nathan and Stephanie Sloop, who face aggravated murder charges in the death of 4-year-old Ethan Stacy. Prosecutors have not expressly stated their intent to pursue the death penalty in that case but have indicated it is a possibility.
Vanessa died June 13 from what doctors at Primary Children's Medical Center described as "multiple severe injuries, including massive trauma to (her) head, massive swelling of (her) brain" and neurological damage possibly caused by several impacts to the head, according to court documents.
Charging documents state that Hart left for work around 8:30 a.m. that day and returned home after receiving a text message from Navarro that said Vanessa had fallen down the stairs, was lethargic and was having a hard time breathing.
When Hart arrived home around 11:30 a.m., he found Vanessa unconscious, court records state.
Doctors at Primary Children's said Vanessa's head injuries could not have been caused by falling down a flight of carpeted stairs, according to charging documents, and older injuries were discovered during an autopsy, including bruising on the girl's chest.
Though Hart and Navarro both have been charged in the case, attorneys for the pair insisted again and again that they are in different circumstances. Navarro could face the death penalty, if prosecutors choose to pursue it, while Hart's attorneys say the murder charge won't stick.
For now, their cases are on separate time lines. Navarro is six months pregnant, expected to deliver Hart's child on Oct. 3, leading her attorneys to ask the judge to postpone the woman's next court appearance until November.
"Our first concern is the safe arrival of her child," defense attorney Denise Porter said. "We want our main focus to be on her health and the health of her unborn child and having that child properly placed."
Given the severity of the charges leveled against Navarro, the woman will not be considered for release from prison in spite of the pregnancy.
Bail was set at a little more than $1 million for each defendant. Hart's attorney, Steven Shapiro, called that "outrageously high," considering the fact that it is believed Hart was at work when the fatal injuries were incurred.
Shapiro was adamant that the current charges are "absurd" because, he said, being aware that his girlfriend caused some bruising on the girl was not reason enough to believe she'd end up dead. He asked that bail be reduced to $10,000.
"There is an enormous leap between him knowing the child was abused to being criminally charged in that child's death," Shapiro said. "I don't believe there's a factual, legal basis for a murder charge. The allegations are about bruising and failure to protect."
Shapiro said the girl had never suffered serious injuries prior to her death and the state Division of Child and Family Services had never been called to the home, which are the kinds of events that would have alerted Hart to the extent of the violence.
But prosecutor Cristina Ortega said that while Hart may not have been home the day Vanessa was killed, he was culpable in the "pattern of physical abuse" that preceded the girl's death. Ortega said Hart was the one who often directed Vanessa's discipline and that he once bought makeup when Navarro said it was needed to cover the girl's bruises.
Third District Judge Ann Boyden ruled that Hart poses a "significant danger" to the community and faces charges indicative of very violent behavior, leading her to reduce the bail to $700,000.
Hart will have a preliminary hearing July 7. Navarro has a scheduling conference slated for Nov. 9.