Elderly Beating Death in Atwater

Atwater, CA Police came to this apartment complex on Winton Way after they say Orlando Becerra called them to report he had killed his aunt.

Family members say Becerra is mentally ill and had just been released from a mental health facility less than 48 hours before the murder.

Haidee Barreto: "For her, nobody was mean, everybody was nice."

Haidee Barreto says her mother, Maria Branco, was a kind and trusting woman who saw the best in everyone including her nephew Orlando Becerra. The two lived in the same apartment complex and Baretto says they often spent time together despite the fact that Becerra suffered from mental illness.

Haidee Barreto: "My mom never had bad thoughts about him. She never think he was gonna hurt her or nothing."

But Atwater police say the 25 year old violently attacked Branco with a cordless phone in his apartment Saturday night. When officers arrived, they reported finding Branco severely injured on the living room floor and Becerra walking out of the bathroom.

Richard Hawthorne, Atwater Police Chief: "He was attempting to wash himself. He had removed his shirt, but he had blood about his upper torso and hands."

Officers arrested Becerra while emergency workers flew his 73 year old aunt to a Modesto hospital, where she died Sunday morning.

Linda Andrus, Victim's Friend: "It's OK, baby, it's OK, this is her dog."

Neighbor Linda Andrus says the entire complex is still in shock.

Linda Andrus, Victim's Friend: "It's not real, it's still surreal, it's just unbelievable."

But as family and friends grieve, they are also searching for answers. Baretto says Becerra was released from a Merced County mental health facility last week despite the fact she and his own mother felt he should stay.

Haidee Barreto: "He shouldn't be out there. If he could have stayed where he was, nothing would happen."

County officials say because of confidentiality laws, they cannot confirm whether Becerra was ever treated by the mental health department.

State law says a mentally ill person can be held for evaluation for 72 hours, but then has the right to a lawyer and a court hearing. Becerra is now in jail facing possible murder charges.

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