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Trial in 2006 death of infant is delayed again

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AMERICAN FORK — It's been 2 1/2 years and there are still no answers as to why little Brandon Zamora died.

Prosecutors have an idea, and have been waiting to take Daniella Ruiz, 26, to trial on first-degree murder, arguing that while she was baby-sitting the 5-month-old child in Provo, she abused the child so severely that he later died at the hospital.

But defense attorney, Shelden Carter, asked for a jury trial continuance Friday in 4th District Court, stating his expert witnesses, doctors, are not available in July, when the seven-day trial was scheduled.

It's the fourth time the trial has been extended, and prosecutors' patience is growing a bit thin.

"We're not really in a position to object," said prosecutor Chad Grunander. "We want to have a good record, because if there is a conviction we don't want to do this in three or four years again ... (because she argues) she wasn't given rights to a proper defense."

However, he said he's concerned that it has taken so long to get closure for the Zamora family.

"We're feeling so bad, because we passed two years and a half already, waiting for what's going on," Jose Zamora told Judge David Mortensen. "We don't know what happened that day, and we want to know. We feel so bad, we are trying to understand."

Ruiz had been baby-sitting Brandon on Jan. 4, 2006, and called 911 to report that he wasn't breathing. She was coached through CPR by dispatch until emergency personnel arrived. The baby was taken to Utah Valley Regional Hospital, then Primary Children's, where he later died.

A medical examiner testified at a preliminary hearing that the baby had a swollen and bleeding brain, internal bruising and hemorrhaging but no external bruises or injuries.

Jose Zamora's wife, Marena, spoke in Spanish as Jose translated for the judge. She said she thinks of her baby every day.

"This isn't right," she said in Spanish. "This isn't right."

Mortensen agreed to the continuance but said that once the attorneys consulted with their doctors and a new date was scheduled, nothing would change it.

"We are all acutely aware that things appear to be moving slowly," Mortensen said, addressing the Zamoras. "And while that might, to a person outside the court system, seem to be an indication that we are not taking matters seriously, here in the courts, when we go slower, it actually means we're taking things more seriously. Sometimes the more serious a case is, the slower it might proceed to make sure that all things are done correctly."

He also acknowledged that it's been a tough time for Ruiz, who has had this hanging over her head for the last two years.

Carter said she is struggling with the thought of possibly going to prison for the rest of her life and leaving her three young children.

To that end, Carter presented a motion arguing that the charge of murder should be dismissed, leaving only the state's other potential alternative charge of child abuse homicide, which is a second-degree felony rather than murder's first.

"They're making me try two different cases in one hearing," Carter said. "It's unfair."

Mortensen denied the motion and noted that he would explain his ruling in a written motion.

E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com