The case of a mother accused of keeping her three children starving in a hotel bathroom for at least nine months will proceed to a grand jury, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Judge Terrie McVea ruled during an examining trial that there was probable cause for a grand jury to consider indicting Abneris Santiago. A Dallas grand jury will likely get the case this month.
Santiago, 30, is charged with one count of injury to a child, and prosecutors have said they would likely add two more counts this week.
Police and a relative found Santiago's three children shut inside a hotel bathroom last month. The 11-year-old girl and her 10- and 5-year-old half brothers were emaciated and filthy, requiring hospitalization for 10 days. The doctor who examined them said the children appeared to have been starved and that their condition was life-threatening.
The 11-year-old said she had been sexually assaulted, and the eldest son was covered in bruises from a beating authorities said was delivered by his mother's boyfriend.
James Jamison, Santiago's attorney, said he expected the ruling and that he requested the optional examining trial to get a preview of the state's case.
"It's relatively easy to show probable cause," Jamison said.
The mother's boyfriend, 37-year-old Alfred Santiago, faces charges of aggravated sexual assault and continuous sexual abuse. Three additional charges of injury to a child likely will be filed against him, Assistant District Attorney Eren Price said.
The Santiagos, who remain in the Dallas County Jail, are not married but have the same last name. The three older children have different fathers. The youngest child is the daughter of both Santiagos.
Alfred Santiago's attorney was out of town Tuesday and did not immediately return a message left by The Associated Press.
Abneris Santiago, wearing thick glasses and a gray-and-green-striped jail uniform, declined to make a statement during the court hearing. She has not spoken publicly about the case, turning down repeated requests for interviews from jail.
During the hearing, Santiago appeared alternately sad and defiant. She lowered her head and blinked repeatedly as Dallas police detective Lisette Rivera described the condition of her children when they were found July 2. Santiago shook her head in disagreement when Rivera said the 11-year-old girl had told her mother that she had been sexually abused for three years.
"She did not realize the child was being sexually assaulted," Jamison said of his client. "She feels victimized. She feels abused. She wishes she could have mustered the strength to do the right thing sooner."
Rivera, the only witness questioned during the hearing, said the family lived in the Budget Suites of America hotel for nearly a year. The suite had a bed, a couch and a crib. The three older children spent day and night inside the bathroom, she said, and never attended school.
"Nobody knew (they were there)," Rivera said. "They never went out."
Rivera also said the children were so starved that their brains had atrophied. The siblings and their 1-year-old half sister, who was found healthy, later were placed together in foster care.