REDWOOD CITY (CBS SF) -- The San Mateo County District Attorney's Office has announced plans to seek the death penalty for a Redwood City man accused of sexually assaulting his girlfriend's infant daughter before beating her to death in Aug. 2015.
Daniel Contreras, 29, had been dating the infant's mother for roughly two months when she left 17-month-old Evelyn alone with him for the first time on Aug. 6, 2015.
After she left, Contreras allegedly spent hours repeatedly sexually assaulting the baby. When Evelyn wouldn't stop crying, Contreras beat her - resulting in multiple skull fractures, according to prosecutors.
By the time police arrived at the residence in the 400 block of Madison Avenue in Redwood City around 2:30 p.m. Evelyn was already dead.
Contreras claimed the infant had been injured falling off a changing table, but an autopsy determined that was not the case. He was arrested two days later.
Contreras has been charged with murder occurring during the commission of forcible lewd acts on a child, assaulting the child resulting in her death and three separate counts of forcible lewd acts on a child.
Defense attorney James Thompson said Tuesday he's astonished that the district attorney's office thought this was an appropriate case in which to seek the death penalty.
In order to secure a conviction for first-degree murder, prosecutors typically have to prove intent to kill on the part of the defendant, but Evelyn's death was unintentional according to Thompson -- who added that suspects intending to kill their victim often use techniques likely to cause death such as shooting, stabbing or choking them.
"There's a lot of ways to kill someone if you intend to kill them," Thompson said. "This is not one of those cases."
Thompson also disputed the prosecution's description of the interaction between Contreras and Evelyn as a "beating," saying that might be the wrong word.
"Even if they think it was a beating, people get beaten to death without the person beating them intending to kill them," Thompson said.
Supervising District Attorney Sean Gallagher said intent is always an issue in every criminal case, but you can secure a murder conviction without proving a specific intent to kill.
"When you get to the question of first-degree murder and special circumstances, then it becomes more relevant," Gallagher said. "The problem is there are exceptions."
Contreras pleaded not guilty Aug. 18, 2015, and remains in custody on no-bail status. He is scheduled to return to court on April 12.
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