August 4, 2005
(Click here to view first media report of Maribel Cuevas)
FRESNO, Calif. - An 11-year-old girl who threw a rock at a boy during a
water balloon fight will not face trial on a charge of assault with a deadly
weapon. She was ordered Wednesday to talk about the fight with her young
Maribel Cuevas was prepared to face a felony trial when lawyers reached a
deal behind closed doors that allowed her to avoid pleading guilty.
Cuevas spent five days in juvenile hall and a month under house arrest after
throwing a 2-pound rock at 8-year-old Elijah Vang, cutting his forehead
after he pelted her with a water-filled balloon.
Police, who responded with three cars while a helicopter hovered overhead,
said they arrested Cuevas for resisting arrest and scratching an officer's
Top brass on the force defended the response, but others took up Maribel's
cause, saying it was no way to treat a childish crime. Supporters gathered
outside the court, chanting "Free Maribel," and singing "We Shall Overcome."
As she awaited her hearing, the girl dressed in pink sweat pants, a white
sweat shirt and pink flip-flops was handed a bouquet of flowers.
Maribel's father, Martin Cuevas said after the proceeding that his daughter
was not a criminal and had acted in self-defense.
"I think everything will be fine," Martin Cuevas said in Spanish. "This way
she'll be able to stay with my wife and me and go to school normally."
As part of the agreement, the two children, with their parents present, will
talk about what happened. Maribel will be on informal probation for six
months and the charges will be dismissed if she stays in school and keeps
out of trouble.
The girl's lawyer said his main goal was to prevent her from pleading guilty
to a crime.
"They did not require any admission of wrongdoing, and once that obstacle
was removed, the case was settled appropriately," defense lawyer Richard
Beshwate Jr. said.
Police were expected to comment later in the day.
The girl maintained she was playing on the sidewalk with her 6-year-old
brother on April 29 when Elijah rode by on his bike with a half-dozen
neighborhood boys, who splattered them with water balloons.
The girl threw a rock that police described as "jagged" and measuring 5.5
inches by 3.75 inches and it hit Elijah on the head, opening a gash that
required stitches. While she ran to find Elijah's parents, a neighbor called
Elijah's family, which has since moved away, declined to press charges but
were prepared to testify for the prosecution. They did not appear in the
Chief Deputy District Attorney Michelle Griggs said her office decided to
proceed without a trial because of the girl's age and because the Vang
family wanted the matter resolved so they can return to their neighborhood
"in a way that is safe so all these children can coexist together."
A court commissioner who specializes in family law, Kimberly Nystrom-Geist,
presided over the brief hearing.
Maribel sat quietly with her head down and Nystrom-Geist had to ask her to
speak louder to confirm she understood she was required to attend a