September 19, 1999 – Madison, WI
Ernesto Benitez Hernandez beat 13 month old Maria Fernanda Hernandez, and fearing he would be
arrested, fled to Mexico. He was arrested there in December of 2008 and extradited to the U.S.
Maria was dehydrated and bruised when she was brought to the
by her mother, Erica Arellano
, along with Hernandez. An autopsy later found that Maria's
death was caused by at least three distinct blows to the head, with other blunt force trauma
injuries to the face. The blows caused bruising and bleeding on the brain. The malnourished
baby also had human bites. The bite marks were less than three days old and left bruises on
Maria's body, but did not break the skin on her arms and legs.
Hernandez told a friend while at the hospital that he was responsible for the girl's bruises
and said he had to leave Madison because he didn't want to spend time in prison. When he
received a phone call from the hospital saying that Maria had taken a turn for the worse, he
and Arellano packed up their belongings and left town hours before she died.
Days later, his car was found abandoned in Michigan, where police briefly detained him but let
him go, not knowing his true identity. An arrest warrant also had yet to be issued.
The case later appeared on “America's Most Wanted,” but failed to generate any strong leads.
Maria's body was kept in cold storage at the Dane County morgue for six months. They tried to
locate family but couldn't find anyone. A priest had rushed to baptize and confirm the baby at
Maria was buried in March 2000 at
Resurrection Catholic Cemetery
which donated a plot in its infant section. Only one pallbearer was needed. He easily lifted
the 1-year-old's white, plastic coffin and carried it from
Holy Redeemer Catholic Church
for the drive to the Cemetery.
Ernesto Benitez Hernandez (29)
Maria Fernanda Hernandez (13 Months)
September 23, 1999 Baby Girl's Liver Saves A Life
Maria’s liver saved another child's life after an extraordinary effort to donate her organs.
Her liver was flown to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where a child in end-stage
liver failure waited. “Without the transplant, this child had no hope for long-term survival”
Her heart valves will be preserved for patients with defective hearts.
December, 2008 Ernesto Benitez Hernandez was arrested in his native Mexico on the murder
charge and extradited to Wisconsin. In 2009, because police determined that they couldn't believe
everything that was attributed to Benitez-Hernandez by other people he was able to plead no
contest to neglecting a child resulting in death and was sentenced under a plea agreement to
30 months in prison. He will then turned over to federal immigration authorities for deportation