A woman accused of killing her younger brother at a Salt Lake restaurant accepted a plea bargain Monday and will testify against her male co-defendant.
Rebecca Hernandez-Velasco, 20, pleaded guilty to reduced charges of murder and obstruction of justice, both second-degree felonies, in connection with the death of 9-year-old Josue Contreras-Velasco, who suffered hypothermia after being forced to stand inside a garbage can full of ice and water for about 45 minutes as punishment.
The incident occurred last year at the Melting Pot restaurant where the two adults worked.
Originally charged with first-degree felony murder, Hernandez-Velasco avoided the possibility of a life sentence if convicted by pleading to the two lesser counts Monday. Now she faces the possibility of a one- to 15-year sentence in prison for each count.
"I want to do this as quickly as possible," Hernandez-Velasco said through an Spanish-speaking interpreter.
Family members watched and a woman wept as Hernandez-Velasco pleaded guilty to killing her brother.
On July 22, 2007, Hernandez-Velasco and her supervisor, 37-year-old Pedro Gaucin-Canales, placed Josue in the frigid water as punishment, investigators said.
Solomon Chacon, an attorney for Hernandez-Velasco, said the boy had been disciplined in such a manner at the restaurant at least once before. The attorney said Gaucin-Canales was a father figure to Josue. Chacon said Hernandez-Velasco retrieved the ice and the water, but she did not force her brother inside the garbage can.
"It was not her idea," Chacon said outside the 3rd District courtroom Monday. "This was her little brother, and she feels very badly."
Hernandez-Velasco will testify against Gaucin-Canales, who is charged with first-degree felony murder, when the man's case goes to trial, Chacon said.
The woman accepted the plea agreement nearly two months after a judge's deadline for such a deal had lapsed. Chacon originally planned to take the case to trial on the grounds that Hernandez-Velasco was threatened into disciplining her brother. But a deal was struck after the woman later backtracked on her statements to police, admitting it was a tacit threat.Hernandez-Velasco will remain in the Salt Lake County Jail without bond and won't be sentenced until after Gaucin-Canales' trial. A scheduling conference for his case is slated for Sept. 19.
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