A Los Angeles mother kept her 10-year-old, special-needs son locked in a closet and so underfed that he was a shocking 34 pounds (15 kilograms) when he died, police said.

Veronica Aguilar, a mother of four children, is accused of neglect that caused the death of Yonatan Aguilar.

When detectives found him in a closet, his weight was more typical of a 3-year-old, KABC-TV reported from a preliminary hearing for the mother.

"I saw a very gaunt, frail-looking child," police Detective Abel Munoz testified.

The boy's stepfather Jose Pinzon testified that Veronica Aguilar told him that she had sent the boy to Mexico for treatment.

Pinzon said he was shocked — then hysterical — when he learned the boy was actually dead in their home.

He said Veronica Aguilar was in the U.S. illegally and felt helpless.

"She would cry a lot because she would say she didn't know what to do," Pinzon testified.

Yonatan had special needs and behavior problems in school.

Pinzon testified through interpreters that consultations with psychologists didn't seem to help, and his mother spoke often of sending him to Mexico where he might get better treatment.

Pinzon said he never saw any sign that Yonatan was in the house. He worked 18 hours a day and slept on the floor away from his wife and children, he said.


Information from: KABC-TV, http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/