A Mexican woman living in Chesterfield County was acquitted of neglecting and fatally injuring a 7-month-old girl she was babysitting in December 2018 — one of three children the mother was watching, including her own.
After a two-day trial in Chesterfield Circuit Court, Judge David E. Johnson found Lirio Jazmin Godinez-Gonzalez, 34, not guilty of felony homicide and child neglect resulting in injuries in the death of Ashley Bonilla-Rodriquez, who died of blunt-force trauma to the head two days after being taken to a hospital on Dec. 27, 2018.
“My client was very emotional [after being cleared of the charge],” said defense attorney Ali Amirshahi. “She has never been locked up before. She has a 3-year-old son she hasn’t seen in 14 months.”
Godinez-Gonzalez, who is a credentialed nurse in Mexico, testified in her defense and strongly asserted her innocence when questioned by the judge at the outset of the proceeding.
“I do not accept the charges against me,” she said in Spanish with the aid of an interpreter.
In acquitting her of both charges, the judge could not determine beyond a reasonable doubt when the child suffered the injuries that led to her death.
Ashley’s mother dropped off the girl at Godinez-Gonzalez’s home on Lancers Boulevard at 7:40 that morning. About three hours later, after realizing something was wrong with the child around 10:50 a.m., the defendant called the girl’s mother to alert her and pick up the child, according to testimony.
The mother told Godinez-Gonzalez she couldn’t get there quick enough and to call 911 for an emergency medical response; the defendant did so after talking with the mother and attempted to administer first aid.
“I think the medical testimony really narrowed down [the child’s injury] to probably that morning,” Amirshahi said. “So something happened that morning. But you couldn’t really say for sure that it happened after 7:40 a.m. or not.”
The child’s mother testified that her baby was acting normally with no apparent health issues before being taken to Godinez-Gonzalez’s home that morning. But there was conflicting testimony about whether the child’s mother brought her daughter directly to the defendant’s home, or first took the child to her brother and sister’s home for breakfast, Amirshahi said.
Dr. Robin Foster, an associate professor and director of the Child Protection Team at VCU Health System, testified that laboratory samples were collected at Chippenham Hospital around noon, and a sample of the girl’s white blood cell count was elevated significantly and may have peaked. Based on that, Foster estimated that the traumatic injury that caused the girl’s death would have occurred “a couple of hours” earlier, but she could not provide a precise time, said Chesterfield prosecutor Ambrosia Mosby.
Foster also testified that Ashley would have had to have been shaken violently to cause the injuries resulting in her death. She demonstrated with a doll in the courtroom the degree to which the child was likely shaken, “and it was very violent; her hair was in disarray by the time she was done,” Amirshahi said.
Amirshahi told the judge that that kind of violent action didn’t comport with the testimony of four defense witnesses, who described Godinez-Gonzalez as a caring, patient and loving person. Two of them testified that the defendant babysat their children without incident and “they would be fine, even now, with Lirio watching their children,” the attorney said.
A forensic anthropologist testified that Ashley suffered a linear parietal fracture to the right side of her skull less than 14 days before her death, but that could have occurred separately from her fatal brain injury. In addition, a neuropathologist testified that the girl sustained a subdural hematoma injury that would have occurred less than four days before her death.
Godinez-Gonzalez was living in the U.S. illegally at the time of the incident. She initially entered the country legally as a non-immigrant visitor, but didn’t depart in accordance with the terms of her admission, said Carissa Cutrell, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
ICE lodged an immigration detainer order with the Chesterfield County Jail after her arrest in the child’s death.
After Godinez-Gonzalez was granted bond on Oct. 28, 2019, she was transferred immediately into ICE custody and held in Atlanta pending her trial, Amirshahi and Cutrell said.
“Her visa required her to leave the U.S. every so often, and she did that a couple of times,” Amirshahi said. “I think once she became pregnant, she didn’t leave and was in violation of her visa. They called her an ‘overstay,’ and because of that she technically became illegal.”
Amirshahi said his client was given the opportunity before trial to waive her right to a removal hearing, which would have resulted in her being deported to Mexico. But she declined. “I thought that was a pretty good indication that she wanted to come back and have her trial,” he said.