A woman arrested in connection with the 1993 death of her 3-year-old daughter pled not guilty on Wednesday to charges of murder and child endangerment.
The U.S. Marshal Services worked with the East Palo Alto Police Department to locate and arrest Yolanda Ortega, 54, on July 7 after following a tip. Ortega had initially fled the country following the 1993 death, which occurred when she was 27 years old. East Palo Alto police announced the arrest on July 8.
On June 28, 1993, paramedics responded to a call at 11:55 a.m. about an unresponsive child at the 2300 block of Ralmar Avenue in East Palo Alto. The child was Ortega's daughter, Yoani Sanchez.
Sanchez was rushed to the Stanford Hospital and died at 12:43 p.m. that day. The cause of death was later determined as blunt trauma to the neck and chest.
An autopsy revealed evidence of child abuse, such as bruising, a fractured rib and hitting with an object. Witnesses said that Ortega, the child's mother, was responsible for inflicting the injuries. San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe said on Wednesday that though the autopsy revealed older bruising, there were no prior reports of child abuse before Sanchez' death.
However, as police awaited autopsy results, Ortega and her husband fled the country to Mexico, leaving behind three children, ages 1, 4 and 17 days old, who were released to Child Protective Services.
Investigators from the East Palo Alto Police Department, the San Mateo Sheriff's Office, the San Mateo District Attorney's Office and the U.S. Marshals continued working on the case.
On July 7, the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Apprehension Team located Ortega in a shopping center in Ventura County, southern California. Ortega was arrested on suspicion of murder and child endangerment and is now at the San Mateo County jail.
Investigators do not know the husband's location. Ortega's husband is not currently being charged as evidence shows Ortega as the sole person responsible, according to Wagstaffe.
On Wednesday, Ortega pled not guilty to both charges and waived her right to a speedy preliminary hearing. She appeared before the San Mateo County Superior Court via remote video from the county jail.
The case was set for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 6, 2021 and Ortega remains in custody on $10 million bail. If convicted, she could face life in prison.