SANTA ANA, Calif. – A woman described by her husband as blinded by postpartum depression knew what she was doing when she drove their 7-month-old son to the fourth story of a parking garage and pushed him over the edge, prosecutors said Thursday.
Sonia Hermosillo's arraignment was delayed until Monday due to medical issues. The 31-year-old faces one count of murder and one count of assault on a child with force likely to produce great bodily injury resulting in death.
Prosecutors say the mother of three took her infant son to the garage at Children's Hospital of Orange County on Monday, removed a special helmet he wore for a medical condition and pushed him over the edge — then re-entered the building to validate her parking ticket before driving away.
"There are some facts to suggest she knew exactly what she was doing," said Scott Simmons, senior deputy district attorney.
Hermosillo was being held on $1 million bail. A message left for her attorney, Chuck Hasse, not was immediately returned.
Hermosillo's husband Noe Medina had said his wife suffered from postpartum depression and did not know what she was doing. He said the couple had no problems during their 13-year-relationship until the birth of their son, who suffered from a condition that required him to wear a special helmet to reshape his head.
"There is no grudge against my wife. Don't judge her poorly. She was truly ill," Medina said tearfully in his native Spanish on Wednesday, hours after his son died. "Understand the pain that I am in ... I lost my son and now I don't want to lose my wife. I have to keep going on for my two little girls."
Postpartum depression affects up to 20 percent of new mothers and can be triggered or worsened by stresses such as a traumatic childbirth experience, disabilities in the infant or an unsupportive home situation, experts said.
Most of these women have the "baby blues," a bout of depression that goes away within a few weeks, but a tiny fraction — about .01 percent — develop postpartum psychosis, said Stephanie Morales, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in perinatal mood disorders.
Simmons said he expects Hermosillo's case will go to a trial jury. He said the mental state of the accused always plays a role in a homicide trial, but he has not prosecuted a case involving postpartum depression.
If convicted, Hermosillo could face a maximum sentence of 25 years to life, prosecutors said.
By all accounts, Hermosillo was a wonderful mother until the birth of Noe Medina Jr. this year.
The native of Mexico had two older daughters, ages 7 and 10, and she doted on them as a stay-at-home mother while her husband worked in construction, according to neighbors who knew her before she gave birth to her third child.
They said she was involved in her daughters' schooling and walked them to class in the family's working class La Habra neighborhood every day, although she spoke little English. When she learned she was expecting a son, she was excited, said Sonia Herrera, a neighbor whose daughter played with Hermosillo's children.
After the boy's birth, Hermosillo became withdrawn and serious, she said.
Medina said his wife was hospitalized for postpartum depression in June after she said she didn't want the boy. The baby had been diagnosed with congenital muscular torticollis — a twisting of the neck to one side — and wore a helmet to help correct his plagiocephaly, also known as flat-head syndrome, The Orange County Register reported.
Studies suggest that Hispanic women suffer from slightly higher rates of postpartum depression because many are first-generation immigrants and are removed from the social and cultural support systems that surround childbirth in many Latin American cultures, Morales said. A language barrier also prevents some immigrant women from getting help.
Hermosillo's husband said his wife took medication after her hospitalization and had seen a therapist for the first time on Monday. Later that day, she scooped up the baby while her husband was watching their daughters, and left their second-story apartment.
A panicked Medina called 911 to report his wife and son missing. La Habra police has declined to release that call, citing the pending investigation.
Authorities say she pushed the baby from the parking garage at the hospital, where he had been undergoing physical therapy twice a week. He didn't have an appointment that day.
A witness saw the baby falling through the air and several people called 911, said Sgt. Dan Adams, an Orange police spokesman.
Surveillance video showed Hermosillo's sport utility vehicle with an empty child seat leaving the parking structure a short time later, Adams said. The license plate was traced to the Hermosillo home, the sergeant said.
A police officer driving past Children's Hospital about four hours later spotted Hermosillo driving on a street about 100 yards from the crime scene and arrested her, Adams said.
Hermosillo was put in a protective gown in the jail's medical ward so she could not hurt herself, according to Jim Amormino, a sheriff's spokesman. He said she also has an immigration hold because authorities believe she may be in the country illegally.
Hermosillo tried to enter the country at a San Diego border crossing using someone else's identity in 2006 and was turned away, said Lori Haley, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Women who have been through postpartum depression said they can understand Hermosillo's actions through the lens of their own mental illness. Tiffany Benton, of San Jose, suffered postpartum depression after the birth of both of her children, now 8 and 11.
Benton, 39, said she would dream about pushing her infant in a stroller down a steep slope and letting go of the carriage. She said she was afraid to bathe her daughter because she didn't trust herself not to drown her.
Benton went three weeks without sleeping at one point and was hospitalized for two weeks after the birth of her younger child when she began hallucinating, she said.
Now healthy, Benton takes medication and goes to therapy, but she has cut her medicine dose in half and hopes to taper off completely with time.
"I was just a disaster emotionally. I felt like I was going crazy and I was having panic attacks," Benton recalled in a phone interview. "My husband had no clue what was going on. He was like, 'Oh, you'll be fine tomorrow,' and I was like, 'No, no, I won't.'"
On the Web:
Post Partum International: http://www.postpartum.net/