SANTA CRUZ -- Prosecutors described 42-year-old Veva Geraldine Virgil as a woman who has led a dysfunctional life punctuated by "methamphetamine induced psychosis" that led to the smothering death of her 3-year-old daughter.
In a trial that started Monday afternoon, Virgil was accused of murdering Isabella "Bella" Martinez, her fourth child, by suffocating her in a Watsonville motel room in 2008.
"Why did this happen?" Santa Cruz County prosecutor David Sherman asked the jury in a whisper. Then he yelled, "How did this happen?"
He said, "She doesn't have some big underlying mental illness. It's the drugs that make her do psychotic things. Her intent was to kill her daughter and she succeeded."
Virgil's trial had been delayed for years as court-appointed mental health professionals weighed whether she was competent to stand trial. She now faces life in prison if convicted.
Monday afternoon, prosecutors started but did not finish opening statements in front of Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge John Salazar. Defense attorneys are expected to make opening statements Tuesday morning.
Virgil appeared stoic in court as Sherman described her tumultuous upbringing in a broken home in Stockton.
By her early teens, Virgil was sent to group homes, where she ran away several times and eventually to San Francisco.
By age 15, she was living in vacant buildings in San Francisco and doing meth and heroin, Sherman said. Blessed with beauty, she met a man of about 25 who encouraged her to become a stripper to make money to support their drug addictions.
That man became her husband.
Virgil became a prostitute off and on for the next two decades, using drugs at times and other times staying clean, Sherman said. She had a son -- now in his 20s and essentially raised by his father -- and three daughters from other men including Bella Martinez, the youngest.
About 2004, Virgil cleaned up her act and worked as a receptionist in a radiology clinic in Santa Cruz for about a year, Sherman said.
By that time, Child Protective Services had taken her two eldest daughters from her. While she was pregnant with Bella, Child Protective Services leaders told her she would not get her two older daughters back.
She delivered Bella in March 2005 and quit her job. Distraught about not getting to see her two eldest daughters, her life spiraled downward, Sherman said.
She lapsed back into meth use. She had married a convicted felon, Richard Sullens, who had his own meth and alcohol abuse problems, prosecutors said.
Virgil's prostitution continued, luring johns through Craigslist ads, Sherman said. She and her husband had sex with them for money, and sometimes made movies of it. They shoved a rolled up carpet under the door to keep Bella from hearing them, Sherman said.
In the four days before Bella's death on Nov. 16, 2008, Virgil used meth, she later told police.
During a drug-induced psychotic episode, Virgil told authorities she believed she was sending her daughter to a better place through death, prosecutors said. She "decided that she would take a pillow and smother" Bella, Sherman said.
"She killed her own daughter and it was a terrible death," he said, noting that Bella fought back.
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