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Probation officer charged with murder for daughter’s death

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THE father whose 2-year-old daughter was forgotten in his vehicle for seven hours as he went to work faces charges of murder and negligent homicide for his child’s death.

Anthony Lizama Morcilla, 46, who is employed at the Superior Court of Guam as a senior probation officer of the Juvenile Section, appeared yesterday for a magistrate’s hearing where he was charged with murder as a first-degree felony; negligent homicide as a first-degree felony; leaving child unattended in motor vehicle as a third-degree felony; and child abuse as a third-degree felony.

A declaration attached to the magistrate’s complaint explained that on Wednesday morning, Morcilla picked up his daughter from his ex-girlfriend, the child’s mother, to drop the child to her day care.

“[The victim] was put in her car seat in the back seat of his vehicle and Morcilla proceeded to drop an older child at school,” the declaration stated. “During the course of driving, [the victim] apparently fell asleep in the back seat and when Morcilla arrived at work he apparently forgot [the victim] was in his vehicle.”

The declaration further stated that Morcilla did not discover his child until he went to his vehicle at about 3 p.m. – approximately seven hours later.

An emergency call was made from the Probation Office at about 3:30 p.m. and medics transported the child to Naval Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

According to court documents, it was reported that the child died between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and had sustained second-degree burns on both legs, both arms, and her facial area.

Bail

During the hearing yesterday before Magistrate Judge Alberto Tolentino, Assistant Attorney General David Rivera recommended that the court impose a $250,000 cash bail, which the government believed was an amount consistent with the nature of the charges.

However, defense attorney Curtis Van de veld, who is representing Morcilla pro bono, argued there was insufficient basis to impose the onerous bail.

While a murder charge states a defendant “recklessly” caused the death of another human being, Van de Veld referred to the Model Penal Code which provides that circumstances providing an extreme indifference to the value of human life requires that one must know that the circumstances they are engaging in are likely to cause – or have a substantial likelihood of causing – death.

“There is nothing in the facts that are indicated in the declaration that supports that Mr. Morcilla was aware that he was leaving his child in the vehicle,” Van de Veld told the court. “In fact it’s the opposite, and therefore, I don’t believe that the recklessness that is consistent with murder ... applies.”

He added, “Even if the court were to find that probable cause did exist for the first charge of murder, there is insufficient basis to impose a cash bail.”

As Van de Veld continued, he spoke of his client’s reputation and character, noting Morcilla is a well-respected member of the community with no prior convictions.

Van de Veld turned and pointed to Morcilla’s family members behind him in the courtroom who, along with the 2-year-old’s mother, were in support of a release on personal recognizance. Two family members also were identified to be third party custodians.

Concerns

Judge Tolentino acknowledged both parties’ arguments and expressed concerns as to the charge of murder.

“What the court has to look at is the nature and seriousness of the allegations contained in the complaint. Although the court has found probable cause on the first-degree murder, it does express that there are some concerns on whether or not that was the appropriate charge given the facts as they are laid out on the declaration.”

The judge agreed with the prosecutor that a cash bail was appropriate given the nature and seriousness of the alleged crimes.

Although Judge Tolentino also agreed with the government that the bail amount of $250,000 as to the murder charge was on the “low end,” he said $100,000 cash bail is more appropriate.

“The court believes that the $250,000 might be a little on the high side, even if it is on the low side for murder,” Tolentino said.

“If you can come up with some amount of that plus your third party custodians offered to the judge that’s going to be assigned, then perhaps you would be able to secure your release, albeit on the third party custodian and under house arrest for the time being until the charges are a little more firm,” Judge Tolentino told Morcilla.

After yesterday’s magistrate hearing, Van de Veld said he would make a motion for his client’s release, noting the need and urgency to prepare for the child’s funeral services with the mother of the child.

“We’re going to ask for him to be released without posting cash because his family doesn’t have the money to post the cash, and what financial resources they do have they need to use for the purpose of the burial rites for their daughter, Van de Veld said.

The parties will return to court for a bail hearing today at 2 p.m. before Judge Tolentino.

Suicide watch

Before the hearing concluded yesterday, AAG Rivera informed the court that they were concerned with the mental being of the defendant, so they requested that Morcilla be placed on suicide watch.

Given the situation, Judge Tolentino said the court understands the concern, stating the Department of Corrections would be the one to handle it.

“If DOC – after its evaluation of Mr. Morcilla – determines that there might be a need for suicide watch, I’m sure they’ll take the appropriate steps to ensure that,” the judge said.

The Variety learned from DOC spokesperson Lt. Antone Aguon that Morcilla was placed on “high observation” at the Hagåtña Detention Facility.

Aguon explained that when an individual is being processed, the corrections officer will ask a number of questions to gauge behavior. If there are concerns, the individual would be put on high observation and, if necessary, referred to medical staff who would determine whether to put them on suicide watch.

Meanwhile, the Variety contacted Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Aurelio Espinola yesterday to find out the results of the autopsy conducted on the child; however, Dr. Espinola said he is unable to comment – as directed by GPD – due to the matter still being under investigation.

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