Berenice Jaramillo-Hernandez, 26, was sentenced to consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty Friday to killing her two children in December.
Friday’s hearing featured “horrific” details of the deaths of siblings Mateo Miranda Jaramillo, 5, and Katherine Miranda Jaramillo, 6.
The Hall County Sheriff’s Office responded around 2 p.m. Dec. 11 to a report that a woman had cut herself at a home on Crescent Drive. They found Jaramillo-Hernandez with serious injuries to her neck and her two children dead.
Sheriff’s Office investigator Jerry Phillips took the stand midday Friday. A 911 call was played first, then Phillips offered a warning before describing the gruesome crime scene.
“Some of the photographs that are used in this presentation are very graphic, horrific,” the investigator said. “As we get closer to those I will let your honor and everyone else in the courtroom know so that you can look away or step out or whatever you’d like to do.”
The prosecution asked Phillips questions pertaining to the more graphic photographs before they were shown so that they could be exhibited quickly.
“All over the house, really the walls and just about every room of the house we had some form or amount of blood transfer on furniture, walls and mostly everything else,” the investigator said.
Phillips said there were a “couple of notes on the dresser that indicated that she was going to end her life as well as (those of) her children.”
The prosecution asked Phillips about photographs showing the two children, both in pajamas and wearing facemasks, lying side by side in a bed.
“Based on the evidence received, these masks were placed on these children by Ms. Jaramillo after she had cut each of their throats, is that accurate?” Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh asked.
“Yes, that was also her testimony,” Phillips said.
Jaramillo-Hernandez admitted to killing the children in her interview with law enforcement.
Phillips agreed with Darragh’s walkthrough of the evidence, with the prosecutor saying that it appeared Mateo was killed while in the bed and Katherine “likely observed the killing of her brother, sought to get away, was not successful and then was placed on the bed next to her brother.”
Investigators discovered defensive wounds on both children, including stab wounds to Mateo’s knuckles, but said blood evidence showed Mateo was killed while covered up in bed.
Conversely, Phillips said there was no blood under Katherine as she was lying in the bed.
“What we determined (with) Katherine, judging by the defense wounds that she had on her hands and other areas, that she was stabbed near the bedroom window,” Phillips said.
Phillips also testified about two knives.
“What we determined was the knife on the floor is the knife Ms. Jaramillo had in her hand when the deputies arrived and entered the bedroom,” he said. “The knife on the dresser is the knife that Ms. Jaramillo indicated during her interview that she slit or cut the children’s throats with.”
The investigator noted that the only item in the medicine cabinet that had blood on it was a tube of numbing cream.
“When we talked to her about what kept her from killing herself by cutting her own throat, she said, ‘Because it hurt.’”
In laying the foundation for a malice murder charge, Darragh said Jaramillo had referred to the children as “the kids” or “those kids” but not “my kids.”
Addressing the judge, Darragh called it a “death penalty eligible case.”
“However, we felt like for lots of reasons that it would be appropriate to close (the case) early,” the district attorney said.
Darragh said he would like to have “recognition of each of the two children by imposing” the life sentences consecutively.
Jaramillo-Hernandez appeared before Superior Court Judge Clint Bearden with defense attorney Matt Leipold and interpreter Guillermo Arenas to enter the guilty plea.
When he first read of the case in the newspaper, assistant public defender Leipold said his first thought was that he didn’t want to be involved with it.
But as he got to know his client over the past few months, Leipold said he has been fortunate to see the sweeter and kinder side.
“The court today has certainly seen the worst of her, and the one thing that a criminal defense lawyer has to believe is that a person, any person, is more than just the worst thing they’ve ever done.”
Leipold said he has seen that Jaramillo-Hernandez is genuinely remorseful.
“It’s unfortunately the type of case where no one’s ever going to have a satisfactory answer,” the defense attorney said. “There’s never going to be a full explanation of why this happened, but I think everyone involved is glad that Ms. Jaramillo is taking responsibility for what happened. We certainly can’t change anything or take anything back.”
Jaramillo-Hernandez had been indicted on four counts of felony murder and two counts each of malice murder, first-degree child cruelty and aggravated assault under the Family Violence Act.
The felony murder counts were vacated and the other charges merged for sentencing.
Darragh said the father of the children is in Mexico, and prosecutors have spoken with him extensively.
“He understands what is happening here today,” Darragh said. “He understands and agrees with the plea recommendation that we are making.”
The children were returned to Mexico for burial.
“This was one of the saddest cases I’ve seen in decades of prosecution,” Darragh said after the sentencing. “The finality of her guilty plea guaranteeing that she’ll never again see the light of freedom is a good result.”