By DONNA KENNY KIRWAN
PAWTUCKET—Behind a photo of a smiling young girl with big brown eyes and wearing a purple satin dress is a handwritten note that reads: “May your life in heaven be better than the one you knew here. R.I.P.” It is signed, “A Friend.”
The girl in the photo, Aleida DePina, 10, died last week from what the medical examiner determined was blunt force trauma.
Her father, Jorge DePina, has been charged with her murder.
In the densely populated neighborhood off West Avenue, several people paused to look at the shrine set up in front of the two-story apartment house at 48 Knowles St. Melting religious candles were surrounded by dolls, Beanie Babies, and a large pink Teddy bear holding a pillow with the word “Princess.”
A large, well-used gas grill stood behind a chain link fence close to the street. Neighbors have remarked that Jorge DePina often cooked out and had friends come by.
Several woman stood chatting in Spanish the driveway at the rear of the apartment and the house next door. When asked about the family, they just shook their heads and said the incident was “so sad.”
One woman said she was just visiting the apartment next door, so didn't know the DePinas, but she hoped nothing like that happened in her neighborhood.
A man who said he lived across the street and referred to himself as “miscellaneous,” said he knew Jorge DePina somewhat and that he and the others — living in the mostly Cape Verdean — neighborhood often “helped each other out” with things they needed. He said DePina often cooked on the grill and had friends come by for food and drink.
The man said he had seen Aleida DePina sometimes riding her bicycle up and down the sidewalk and that she seemed very quiet and shy. He said he had been told by a neighborhood woman that at a recent birthday party that had been held for the young girl a few weeks ago, she had been given presents but had left them unopened.
The neighbor also said that he considered DePina “innocent until proven guilty.” Noting that DePina often had parties, he suggested a scenario where, perhaps, the girl had been left unattended for a time and had been assaulted by visitor.
A handwritten sign taped to the fence near the shrine reads “Let's get together” and asks for donations to a Citizens bank account. However, a call to Citizens Bank corporate office had no information about a special account having been set up for the victim and said the account number given is listed to someone from Boston. No further information on a financial collection is available.
The case is still under investigation, but the facts, according to a state prosecutor, police and a court affidavit, show that Aleida DePina was brought to Miriam Hospital on the evening of July 3 by her father, Jorge DePina. According to court documents, authorities believe she was dead on arrival at the hospital and was pronounced dead by a physician immediately.
Two days later, 32-year-old Jorge DePina was charged with his daughter's murder, as well as first-degree child abuse and cruelty to or neglect of a child. He did not enter a plea, according to court documents and was ordered held without bail at the Adult Correctional Institutions pending a bail hearing on July 19.
According to reports, prosecutor Kevin Crawley told District Court Judge William C. Clifton that autopsy results showed Aleida DePina had died of blunt force trauma to the abdomen, an injury that had likely occurred days earlier. He also said she had been deprived of food, clothing and proper medical care.
The prosecutor also said that Miriam Hospital staff had observed injuries, both old and new, including abrasions and bruises to her chest, abdomen, arms, elbows and thighs. Additionally, he said she had abrasions on her back that had possibly been made with a cigarette.
According to the affidavit from Pawtucket Police detectives that was used to request a search warrant, Aleida DePina appeared to be malnourished.
In addition to the numerous wounds that had been outlined by the prosecutor, detectives also stated that the young girl had what appeared to be ligature marks on her wrists and numerous puncture wounds on her back. According to the attending physician, it appears she had also been sodomized, the affidavit states.
The investigating detectives also said in the affidavit that they believed the child had sustained injuries and trauma consistent with assault and severe physical abuse, likely over an extended period of time.
Listed among the items seized by detectives as part of the investigation were samples of vomit from inside the apartment and an outside wall, a white rope from a door, bedding from the victim's room, a Hello Kitty bathrobe, and numerous items from a bathtub, including bedsheets, a man's shirt, a facecloth, a pair of Disney girls' underwear, a pair of blue Ralph Lauren briefs, two brushes and a cup.
At his court appearance on Friday, Jorge DePina had reportedly appeared distraught, crying repeatedly in Creole. Several friends and neighbors spoke to reporters in his defense, saying he had appeared to be a caring father and that they couldn't believe the accusations against him.
Stephanie Terry, an associate director for the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families, said that because this is an active investigation by police, she would not confirm or deny if there had been any prior contact with the agency and Jorge DePina. “Because of the nature of the allegation and the circumstances, police take the front seat here,” she said, referring any inquires to the Police Department.
Pawtucket Police Maj. Arthur Martins said there was no record of any child abuse complaint that had been brought against Jorge DePina. He said Pawtucket Police had been called to 48 Knowles Ave. over the past three years for various complaints about noise and unruly behavior, and some tenant/landlord disputes, but the reports did not specifically name DePina. He said that last March, there had been an incident in which a bottle had been thrown through the window of DePina's first floor apartment during a party, striking someone inside, and a Providence man had later been arrested as the suspect.
When asked if any staff at the Baldwin Elementary School, where DePina was a student, had noticed any signs of abuse, Schools Superintendent Deborah Cylke said she was still gathering information about the recent incident.