Dr. Jess Diamond was a celebrated pediatrician, victim’s advocate, and child abuse expert for several decades in Kern County. Dr. Diamond, now 100 years old, is retired. Dr. Diamond testified in hundreds of child abuse cases, and as former prosecutor Robert Carbone put it, Diamond taught many in the law enforcement field how to handle child abuse cases. Dr. Diamond worked as a child abuse expert at Kern Medical for many years before opening up a private practice.
In 1991, Dr.Diamond examined Consuelo Verdugo for suspected abuse. He testified at Vicente Benavides’ trial that he believed the child was raped and sodomized. According to his 2012 declaration, 16 years after Benavides was sentenced to death, Diamond reviewed Consuelo’s medical records that he said weren’t provided to him when he examined the child initially.
Diamond said after reviewing all the medical records, he no longer believes the child was sexually assaulted. Diamond went onto say these new findings troubled him deeply, and he believes the jury convicted Benavides based on “substantial and significant inaccurate medical information.” Diamond concluded his declaration with “I do not believe that Mr. Benavides received a fair trial, and I provide this declaration in the hope that the current legal proceedings will correct this injustice.”
Robert Carbone was a young ambitious prosecutor when he was assigned the Vicente Benavides case. Though Carbone has handled hundreds of cases, this case never left him. Carbone still recalls in vivid detail what it was like being at the child’s autopsy, seeing the bows still in her hair. Carbone says he did the best he could with what the medical experts gave him. Simply, they told him that the trauma to her body was caused by sexual assault, so he prosecuted the case accordingly. Carbone was-and is-completely shocked to hear Dr. Diamond completely changed his opinion decades later. After viewing the oral arguments in front of the California Supreme Court, Carbone says he feels a very dangerous man may be about to walk off death row. Carbone says, “without being able to actually questions opinions at this point, I cannot personally change my opinion that he is guilty.” Carbone currently practices family law in Bakersfield at a private practice.
Dr. Astrid Heppenstall Heger is a pediatrician and widely-acclaimed child abuse expert who has dedicated her life to helping victims of abuse. Heger has published extensive research on diagnosing and treating child abuse victims. In 1984, Dr. Heger opened the “Violence Intervention Program”, the first medically-based child advocacy center in the world. Similar programs have since been replicated around the world. Dr. Heger has testified in hundreds of legal proceedings involving child abuse. Dr. Heger reviewed the Benavides case at the request of Dr. Jess Diamond. In her declaration, Heger said she doesn’t believe Consuelo was sexually or physically abused.
Vincente Benavides, now 68 years old, has been incarcerated for 26 years and on Death Row for 24. Benavides is from Mexico and only speaks Spanish. According to documents filed by his attorneys, the language barrier was a big issue for Benavides and investigators. A Habeas Corpus Writ says the Delano Police Detective who questioned Benavides thought he was asking him if he raped the child, but it really translated to “is the girl shaved clean?” The writ also says Benavides grew up extremely impoverished and never went to school. The writ says “Mr.Benavides’ was born into a family whose history included mental illness, alcoholism, extreme poverty, malnutrition, and horrific physical and psychological abuse.” The document goes onto say Benavides grew up in a poor farming settlement with no running water or electricity. Benavides began working in the fields with his father at age four. At the time of Consuelo’s death, Benavides was in a relationship with her mother and worked as a farm laborer in Delano.