What would drive a couple to kill a new mother and steal her baby? The motives behind most offenses are easily understood but this type of brutal crime is difficult to comprehend. As a forensic psychologist I have evaluated hundreds of defendants charged with violent crimes. Few cases seem as heartless as the one that occurred on December 2nd in Planada, California.

Maria Teresa Ceja Robles, 33, and Jose Augustine Velarde, 37, were arrested and charged with killing Ana Lila Diaz De Ceja and kidnapping her 2-month old son. Sheriff Mark Pazin reported that the couple gave incriminating statements. He said, ""The suspects used a ruse to lure Ana to their house. Ana was then attacked by the husband, strangled, then driven dead to an orchard outside Snelling." http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40723214/ns/us_news/
Her body, burned beyond recognition, was discovered the next day. She was identified through dental records.

Sheriff Pazin descried the crime as "a callous disregard for human life." http://www.kmjnow.com/pages/landing_news?Couple-Gives-Chilling-Account-o....
While all defendants are innocent until proven guilty, there seems to be plenty of corroborating evidence against the couple. It was reported that video from a store surveillance camera caught Ms. Robles shopping for baby items on December 2nd.

By all accounts, this does not appear to be an impulsive crime. News reports indicated that Robles and Velarde offered people money to help them commit the crime. A few days before, the two women met in a medical clinic and Ms. Diaz allowed Ms. Robles to hold her baby. Sheriff Pazin told the press, "That's when she fell in love with the infant and had to have that baby...The only word I can use to categorize (their actions) is despicable. It's just bizarre." http://search.avg.com/?d=4cc6d012&v=

The couple told police that they had planned to raise the baby as their own. They named him Jose Jr. and showed him to their children. Their plans changed when the case was widely publicized. http://articles.cnn.com/2010-12-17/justice/california.baby.snatching_1_b...

The baby was missing for five days. On December 7th, at 6:30 in the morning, a neighbor heard crying outside their home. They discovered the infant on their front stoop. He had almost frozen to death from exposure; his body temperature had fallen to 86 degrees.

The couple has pled not guilty. As the case unfolds, more will be discovered about the prosecution's case and the psychological make-up of the two defendants. One interesting piece of the puzzle has already been publicized. Sheriff Pazin told the press that Ms. Robles had a miscarriage last summer. Research has shown that some women become quite depressed after a miscarriage. While this certainly does not excuse Ms. Robles' behavior, it does shed light on her motivation.

But what of her husband's motivation? Did he just go along with his wife's desires? When I read that he came to the United States nine years ago I wondered whether he was the biological father of their three children. The fact that the couple had already renamed the baby Jose Jr. seemed significant.

I have never evaluated a defendant charged with this type of crime. However, I am aware of many cases in which women kidnapped babies to raise as their own. A few women pretended to be hospital employees to get access to newborns. One Kalamazoo woman, for example, dressed in white to pose as a nurse. Another woman pretended to be a physician.

In rare instances, pregnant women were attacked or killed. Perhaps the most shocking and disturbing case was the 1995 murders of Debra Evans and her two children. Fedell Caffey and Jacqueline Williams killed the pregnant mother before cutting the baby from her womb. The infant boy survived. The couple then killed two of Ms. Evan's children. Williams was sentenced to life in prison and Caffey to death. In 2003 Caffey's death sentence was commuted by Governor Ryan when he left office.

Will Robles and Velarde be charged with the death penalty? Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II told the press that the murder and kidnapping involved "special circumstances." He is reviewing the case to determine whether or not to seek the death penalty. In the 25 cases he has tried, he has sought the death penalty in only two.

About the Author

Cheryl Paradis, Psy.D.

Cheryl Paradis, Psy.D., is an associate professor of psychology at Marymount Manhattan College.

You are reading

The Measure of Madness

The Tiana Browne Trial Part II

A 15-year-old girl is arrested for killing her cousin.

The Tiana Browne Trial Part I

A 15-year-old is arrested for the murder of her cousin

Casey Anthony Is Found Not Guilty Of Killing Her Daughter

Many find the Casey Anthony trial verdict shocking