Mother charged with killing 3 young children in Reseda apartment

Matt Hamilton, Richard Winton
·3 min read
Deputy Public Defender Brandon Mata with Liliana Carrillo during her arraignment in Kern County Superior Court on Wednesday.
Liliana Carrillo appeared in Kern County Superior Court last week for her arraignment on charges related to carjacking and auto theft. (Alex Horvath / The Californian)

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office filed three murder charges Monday against Liliana Carrillo, accusing her of killing her three young children in a Reseda apartment before absconding to the San Joaquin Valley.

Prosecutors alleged that Carrillo, 30, killed her 3-year-old daughter, Joanna; her 2-year-old son, Terry; and her infant daughter, Sierra, 5 months, on April 10, and said she used a knife as a deadly weapon during the slaying of her youngest child.

The L.A. County district attorney's office opted not to file a special circumstance allegation for multiple murders, thereby preventing prosecutors from seeking life without parole upon conviction. After taking office in December, Dist. Atty. George Gascón barred prosecutors in L.A. County from filing special circumstance allegations that result in a prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole, part of a wave of measures that align with progressive criminal justice policies.

Alex Bastian, a special advisor to Gascón, affirmed Monday that the decision not to file the multiple murders special circumstance allegation was in keeping with the policy of not seeking the life-without-parole punishment.

It's unclear when Carrillo will be arraigned on the charges in L.A. County. She remains in custody in a Kern County jail in lieu of $2-million bond on charges related to carjacking and auto theft. Last week, she confessed to killing her children during an interview from a Bakersfield jail with a local NBC affiliate.

“I drowned them,” Carrillo told a reporter from KGET-TV, saying she did so “softly" and that she killed them to protect them from sex abuse. “I hugged them and I kissed them and I was apologizing the whole time.”

In a statement released by a spokesman, Gascón said his office has reached out to surviving relatives "to offer trauma-informed services during these incredibly difficult times."

"Our hearts go out to the family of these children who are coping with this tremendous loss," Gascón said in the statement.

In the wake of the three children's killings, their father, Erik Denton, and his family have excoriated police and child welfare agencies for not acting on warnings that Carrillo was mentally unstable and that the children were in danger.

“I am afraid for my children’s physical and mental well-being,” the kids’ father, Erik Denton, told a Tulare County judge last month before he was granted physical custody.

The warnings reached officials in L.A. County as well. The Department of Children and Family Services and the LAPD were alerted on numerous occasions that Carrillo was a danger to the young children, according to interviews by The Times with Denton and his family along with court records and sources familiar with the ongoing investigation.

"Twelve years of medical training doesn’t mean anything to these social workers and cops. They ignored my warnings about the danger Liliana posed to the children," said Dr. Teri Miller, an emergency room physician who assisted her cousin, Denton, with trying to save the children. "I don’t understand what was wrong with my message. I told them I was scared for the kids’ safety based on her mental condition and behavior."

L.A. County’s DCFS, the largest child welfare agency in the nation, has declined to comment on the specifics of the Carrillo case, citing state confidentiality laws. In a statement, an agency spokeswoman said DCFS "joins the community in mourning."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.