A 22-year-old Drew County woman escaped a possible capital murder conviction and life sentence Tuesday afternoon when she pleaded guilty to permitting the abuse that prosecutors say led to the February death of her 2-year-old daughter, Aubriana Coke.
In exchange for her guilty plea, 10th Judicial District Prosecutor Thomas Deen agreed to drop the capital murder charge against Victoria Pedraza with the understanding that she would cooperate with the state in the prosecution of her 23-year-old husband Daniel Pedraza, and if she failed to do so the capital murder charge against her would be reinstated.
Daniel Pedraza, the toddler’s stepfather, is charged with capital murder and faces a possible death sentence if convicted.
Aubriana Coke died on February 27 of multiple blunt force injuries, one of which was a torn bowel. Dr. Steve Erickson, the state’s chief deputy medical examiner, suspects that a hard punch or similar concentrated blow to the abdomen caused the child’s small bowel to tear apart, according to the affidavits filed in the case.
Deen said there was never any evidence that Victoria Pedraza personally caused any injury to the child.
She did, however, admit that she failed to prevent the abuse. At a Tuesday afternoon hearing in Drew County Circuit Court, Victoria Pedraza tearfully told Circuit Judge Don Glover that she failed to prevent the abuse that led to her daughter’s death.
“I understand that I did fail to take action to prevent the abuse and physical harm and ultimately the death of my daughter and I understand it does carry 5 to 20 years in the penitentiary and or a fine up to $15,000,” she said, her voice cracking slightly on the words “death of my daughter.”
Asked if she understood the process that would take place following her guilty plea, she said she understood that she would go before a jury for sentencing after she testifies against Daniel Pedraza.
“In the event that you choose not to testify against Daniel Pedraza, what is your understanding that will happen?” Glover asked.
“I understand that the guilty plea will go out and I will be back with the capital murder charge and permitting the abuse,” she replied.
“Have you told your attorneys, as well as others, your anticipated testimony?” Glover asked.
She said she had.
“Tell me again how you consider yourself committing a violation of this charge,” Glover instructed.
She acknowledged that she witnessed acts of physical abuse of her daughter by Daniel Pedraza and she recklessly failed to take action to prevent the abuse that ultimately caused the child’s death.
“The court does find that the plea is knowingly and voluntarily and intelligently entered by Mrs. Pedraza and the court will accept this plea with the understanding that a jury trial will be required to determine your sentence on the charge of permitting abuse and that should you be called to testify against Daniel Pedraza that you will do so truthfully,” Glover said.