San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe has decided not to seek the death penalty in the case of a Redwood City man accused of beating a 17-month-old girl to death following sexual assault.
His office will instead ask for a life in prison without parole.
Daniel Contreras, 32, is charged with the crime in August 2015. On Tuesday, Wagstaffe said he made the decision after hearing arguments from the defense about his sanity and upbringing. Wagstaffe also said the public’s shift in attitudes towards the death penalty influenced his decision to seek life in prison without parole instead.
“I think attitudes about the death penalty here in California, and particularly mine, are evolving,” Wagstaffe said.
Wagstaffe said he still believes there are certain circumstances to consider the death penalty. However, in recent years there has been a shift in the Bay Area regarding the circumstances of when to seek the death penalty. Prosecutors announced in January 2018 that they would apply for the death penalty in the case based on the facts of the crime and its horrific nature.
According to prosecutors, Contreras watched the 17-month-old baby as he allegedly sexually molested her. The baby was his girlfriend’s daughter. The little girl wouldn’t stop crying, so Contreras allegedly beat her to death and caused multiple fractures of the skull, the prosecutor’s office said. Then he called his mom and aunt and lied about the girl who fell off a changing table, but an autopsy contradicted his story, the prosecutor’s office said.
Wagstaffe said the defense for Contreras brought hundreds of pages of materials to allow for a mental health analysis. Wagstaffe said the presentation showed Contreras had mental health issues, which Wagstaffe considered. The presentation also provided more details about his upbringing and background. Wagstaffe said Contreras had expressed remorse for his alleged crimes. Wagstaffe also spoke to the authorities involved in the investigation and its staff to assess the case before making the final decision. Wagstaffe made the decision on Monday not to apply for the death penalty.
“The defense attorney did an excellent job of conveying a different picture of who this man is. It made a difference, ”said Wagstaffe.
Attorneys Peter Arian and Scott Sherman represent Contreras and have taken over the case from a previous defense team. Sherman said her team put the time and effort into developing the presentation at the prosecutor’s office that helped convince them not to apply for the death penalty. While refusing to give details about the presentation, Sherman said her team had been investigating Contreras’s background to provide more information to show that it was more than the alleged crimes. Sherman said it was often difficult to convince the prosecutor’s office to change their decision. He thanked the DA Office for reviewing his original decision.
“We appreciate that prosecutors are ready to re-investigate this case,” said Sherman.
Sherman declined to elaborate on his team’s plans for the case. The case is due to be brought before a jury with Judge Robert Foiles on March 9, 2021.