The secrets inside a two-bedroom apartment in Fair Oaks began to publicly unravel Friday in a Sacramento courtroom, where a mother and her boyfriend were ordered to stand trial in connection with the beating death of a 3-year-old girl.
More details emerged about the short life and death of Valeeya Brazile, who was two months shy of her fourth birthday when she was pronounced dead Feb. 5, 2008, at Mercy San Juan Medical Center.
The attorney for Valeeya's mother, Mia Holmes, had tried to close Friday's preliminary hearing to the public. But Sacramento Superior Court Judge Greta Curtis Fall rejected the contention that the 41-year-old mother could not get a fair trial because of The Bee's ongoing coverage of the child's death and problems within Sacramento County's Child Protective Services.
CPS had previously removed Valeeya and her older brother from their mother's care because of domestic violence, but a CPS social worker – without ever making an unannounced visit to the family – recommended that the children be sent home and the case closed.
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By the time Valeeya died, the coroner found, the girl had suffered severe blows and numerous other injuries over time to her 3-foot-3-inch, 31½-pound body.
Holmes' live-in boyfriend at the time, Thomas Jerome "T.J." Martin, 21, was charged with murder, assaulting a child under 8 and possession of marijuana for sale.
Holmes was charged with felony child endangerment and possession of marijuana for sale, although the judge Friday dismissed drug charges against both defendants for lack of evidence.
Holmes and Martin appeared together in Department 10, represented by different court-appointed attorneys. Holmes, who is out on bail, averted her eyes and did not acknowledge Martin, an inmate at the Sacramento County Main Jail.
The couple had a baby together a month before Valeeya's death, although a district attorney's investigator testified that the CPS worker did not know Holmes had a boyfriend sharing the apartment.
District attorney investigator Teresa Kahl testified that CPS social worker Alexis Hince told her it was her "personal choice" to set up appointments with her clients in advance, and never to show up unannounced. Kahl said that during the seven months that the family was on Hince's caseload, the social worker told her she had spoken only once with Valeeya one-on-one.
Records obtained by The Bee showed that Hince was aware that Valeeya had suffered a burned hand and a broken elbow, but the social worker did not give that information to the court when it was determining in August 2007 whether the children could safely remain in the home.
Hince was placed on administrative leave last year, and a CPS spokeswoman said Friday she no longer works for the county.
Under questioning from Deputy District Attorney Rick Miller, Sacramento Sheriff's Detective Anthony Saika testified that Holmes had confided to a relative six months before the girl's death that her daughter seemed "scared of Martin."
Holmes' attorney, Scott N. Cameron, argued that the evidence shows that Valeeya kept the abuse a secret from her mother. The attorney pointed out that the girl had been given a well-child exam two months before her death, and that the doctor found "no significant issues."
Her injuries, however, were extensive and dated back weeks, possibly months, before her death, according to Dr. Mark Super, chief forensic pathologist for the Sacramento County coroner.
Super testified that Valeeya's injuries included a torn bowel, bruises covering her chest, blood in her chest cavity, old brain bruising and nine broken ribs. Some of the injuries were in various stages of healing and likely would have been painful for the child, Super said.
A trial date has been tentatively set for Dec. 2.