Fresno woman pleads no contest to drowning infant son in 2010

The Fresno BeeMay 27, 2014 

Gabriela Espinosa

With tears in her eyes, a Fresno woman pleaded no contest Tuesday to a felony charge of manslaughter for drowning her infant son in a motel bathtub four years ago.

Gabriela Espinosa, 27, initially was charged with first-degree murder _ a crime that could have sent her to prison for the rest of her life.

She now faces 19 years and eight months in prison after pleading to the lesser charge.

Prosecutor Jeff Dupras declined to comment on the negotiated settlement.

But Espinosa's lawyer, Barbara O'Neill, said Espinosa suffered from postpartum depression and was acting strangely before she drowned her 2-month-old son, Gabriel, on April 17, 2010.

Because she was mentally ill, Espinosa spent nearly the entire year of 2011 at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, where she was forced to take antipsychotic medication. After returning to the Fresno County Jail in September 2011, she has continued to take her medication.

"She now knows what she did and wants to accept responsibility," O'Neill said.

The plea in the latest chapter of a sad case in which a distraught Espinosa sought help for her and her children, but was put in a seedy Fresno motel on Blackstone Avenue because the Marjaree Mason battered women's center was filled.

Police reports say Fresno County social workers placed Espinosa and her three children in the Economy Inn at Blackstone and Ashlan avenues on April 16, 2010, after she was involved in a domestic-abuse incident with the children's father. The next day, the reports say, Espinosa confessed to drowning Gabriel in the motel room's bathtub.

According to the police reports, Espinosa initially planned to kill herself and all three of her children in the motel room. She never clearly explained to police detectives why she killed Gabriel. "Just because," she said, according to the police reports.

Police arrested Espinosa about 4 a.m. April 17 after she was involved in two accidents on Highway 41. She later told investigators that her children were alone in the motel room. Officers went to the motel and found Espinosa's other two children, ages 6 and 4, sleeping in a bed near their dead brother.

As part of the settlement, Espinosa, who had no criminal history before the drowning, also pleaded no contest to two counts of felony child endangerment. She also waived her right to appeal her punishment when she is sentenced on July 2.

In addition, she withdrew her plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

"What happened to her and her children is upsetting," O'Neill said. "She asked for help and was put in a motel in a bad part of Fresno."

Then at the motel, Espinosa "felt she was under attack by people," O'Neill said. "She was not thinking clearly."

Three court-ordered doctors said Espinosa was legally insane when she drowned her son, O'Neill said. Espinosa also was hospitalized for two weeks with postpartum depression when she had her second child, she said.

But O'Neill said she and Espinosa agreed it would be risky to take her case to jury. "You never know what a jury will do especially when an infant is involved," she said.

Unlike a murder conviction, in which a defendant must serve 15 to 25 years before getting a parole hearing, Espinosa will be paroled once she serves her punishment -- which O'Neill estimates is 13 more years behind bars.

Her two children are with their father and doing fine, O'Neill said.

"She's thinking clearly now," O'Neill said. "At least she knows when she will get out."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, or @beecourts on Twitter.

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