SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio mother accused of killing one of her children could have access to the other one if a local judge grants permanent custody to the father, according to an attorney representing the second child, who is 11 months old.
A foster parent of the second child voiced similar concerns in an interview with the KSAT 12 Defenders.
The mother, Jessica Briones, 38, is out of jail on bond awaiting trial for capital murder of her 4-year-old daughter.
She was originally charged with felony injury to a child in September 2017, weeks after she walked into the San Antonio Police Department’s Prue Substation carrying her four-year-old daughter Olivia, who was limp and unresponsive, according to charging paperwork.
Olivia Briones, who was the weight of a child half her age, died at University Hospital a day after being carried into the substation.
Jessica Briones’ criminal charge was upgraded to capital murder of a child under 10 in September 2018, Bexar County court records show.
If convicted of the charge, Jessica Briones would spend the rest of her life in prison without the possibility of parole.
WARNING: Some of the details below may be disturbing to some readers
An SAPD investigator who attended Olivia Briones’ autopsy noted that she had injuries that included eight scars in various stages of healing on her scalp, a large cut on the back of her head, severe swelling of the brain, fractured vertebrae, a deflated lung and both of her arms were swollen.
The examiner who conducted the autopsy said Olivia Briones’ brain injury was consistent with a severe blow to the head, according to a warrant for her mother’s arrest.
Jessica Briones told investigators her daughter had fallen and hit her head on the floor days earlier and that she had also slammed her daughter’s arm in a door, calling it an accident, charging paperwork shows.
A search by SAPD of Jessica Briones’ apartment uncovered a clear bowl on Olivia Briones’ bed that was filled with vomit, records show.
Officials with the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office labeled her death a homicide and listed her cause of death as complications from a closed head injury.
Bexar County officials on May 19 attempted to block the release of Olivia Briones’ full autopsy report, telling the state attorney general’s office that doing so would interfere with the prosecution of the pending criminal case.
The foster mother
Noemy Cadena said that she worked with Jessica Briones at a San Antonio restaurant for months without even knowing her last name, let alone that she had been accused of murdering her child.
“She’s petite. She’s very soft spoken. It seems like she wouldn’t do something like that,” said Cadena in an interview with the KSAT 12 Defenders.
Cadena added that Jessica Briones would only ever provide scant details of her case and described it more as a child endangerment situation.
Cadena, who referred to Jessica Briones as an acquaintance, said she confided in her that she would one day like to become a parent.
“I had told her about me wanting to possibly adopt children,” said Cadena.
Cadena said last year Jessica Briones contacted her, informed her she was six months pregnant, and then asked if Cadena would be interested in having temporary custody of the baby.
“Asking if I would take this child,” said Cadena, who then completed the necessary steps to become a foster parent, including supplying references and an employment verification and showing Child Protective Services officials that her home was safe to raise a child in.
Cadena was then present for the birth of the child last July, taking a photograph of Jessica Briones as she held the baby boy.
Minutes later, according to Cadena, the child was removed from Jessica Briones.
“It was a liability for the hospital,” said Cadena, recalling what hospital officials explained as they took the baby.
Cadena then said she was given custody of the child just before he turned two months old.
“He calls me mama. Something I didn’t teach him, because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” said Cadena.
“One dead child I think is enough dead children for this family”
Despite being barred from having access to her baby, Jessica Briones’ presence continues to play a prominent role in determining permanent custody of the child.
During a virtual hearing last month, the baby’s ad litem, an attorney appointed to act on his behalf, requested that the date for the judge to possibly rule on unifying the child with his biological father be extended.
A DNA test conducted in December determined who the child’s father is.
He then began having visits with the baby, even though he remained in a relationship with Jessica Briones, according to CPS paperwork viewed by the Defenders.
“I’m not comfortable right now recommending reunification with dad,” said attorney Monica Guerrero, a former county court judge.
The father, who KSAT is not naming, admitted during May’s virtual court hearing that he does not believe Jessica Briones is guilty of what she has been accused of.
This admission, along with the father’s concession that he had shared a photo of the baby with Jessica Briones as recently as two weeks before the hearing, caused Guerrero to lay out her concerns regarding the move to unite the baby and his father permanently:
I do have some concerns that dad is not going to be adequately protective. He doesn’t believe that mom’s capital murder charge is a valid charge. It is the highest charge that anyone can get in the state of Texas. Still sending photographs and I’m concerned that there’s communication and that once the department’s not looking he’s going to have access with Jessica. One dead child I think is enough dead children for this family and I just have some concerns.Monica Guerrero, Ad Litem
Guerrero, reached by telephone last week, said she could not comment on the case because it is pending.
In cases where Texas children are removed from a parent or their parents, family reunification is the state’s primary goal, unless aggravating circumstances cause a judge to rule otherwise.
The father told the court he had continued to share photos of the baby with Jessica Briones after the CPS caseworker assigned to the case told him he could.
The caseworker, reached by telephone last month, said she had nothing to say about the case and then hung up on the Defenders.
In a text message sent in late January, the caseworker told Cadena that Jessica Briones knew the father’s appointment and class schedule.
“That’s definitely a concern for me,” the message stated.
The caseworker, whose opinion on the court matter will go a long way toward determining custody, has had an apparent change of heart, telling the judge last month the state’s goal is now to unify the child with his father while terminating Jessica Briones’ parental rights.
The caseworker added that concerns about the father’s ongoing contact with Jessica Briones have “somewhat been alleviated” and that the father has assured her that he ended the relationship and will no longer share images of the child.
The father’s attorney did not respond a request for comment for this story.
“What they’re doing to this little boy, is they’re fattening him up and sending him to the slaughterhouse. That’s what it feels like,” said Cadena.
Jessica Briones’ next court appearance in her capital murder trial is scheduled for June 24.
She did not respond to a request for comment left at her last known address.
Jessica Briones’ criminal defense attorney, John Fahle, did not respond to a message seeking comment for this story.
The judge assigned to the custody case could rule on permanent custody as soon as mid-July.
CPS officials declined to comment about this custody case specifically, telling us in a written statement:
“Confidentiality laws prohibit us from discussing individual foster care cases. Working closely with the court and other professionals, DFPS works to make sure its recommendations about family reunifications are in the best interest of the child. DFPS is the child’s conservator in reunification cases, but our recommendation is only one of several - including those of the child’s attorney ad litem, therapist, CASA and family members. CPS’s hope is always to place a child with his family or ‘kin’, when appropriate. Counseling, therapy and parenting classes are just some of the services provided in reunification cases, which are overseen from start to finish by a judge with whom the ultimate decision about custody rests.”