First evidence against Reedley babysitter accused of killing a toddler

FRESNO, Calif.

Ella Van Leeuwen was in dire straits when police got to the scene of her babysitter's house in Reedley two years ago. An officer found her already unconscious.

"[She was] breathing heavily," said Reedley officer Mark Diedrich. "He also observed bruising on the child's face and torso -- a large amount [of bruising]."

Officers say the bruises on Ella's chest were the size of fingertips. She also had bruising on her face, head, and hip. Three days later, Ella was dead of a fractured skull.

The girl's family wore big flowers to court Wednesday, like the ones Ella used to wear as prosecutors started laying out the case against Martzen, who was babysitting Ella.

Martzen told officers the girl fell off a bed 30 inches to the carpeted floor. But court documents acquired by Action News show one doctor said it's nearly impossible the fall could have killed her. He said the injuries made it look more like the girl was "in a traffic accident at 60 miles per hour without a seat belt, got ejected from the vehicle and hit her head on a brick wall."

Martzen's defense attorney contradicted the doctor, saying it was an unprofessional opinion. Jeff Hammerschmidt said is possible, and investigators would've known that if they'd done their jobs right. "I believe the investigation that was done in this case was incompetent and biased."

Hammerschmidt says Ella had pre-existing injuries and doctors would've found that out if officers had told them the girls might have fallen on her face. "There are a lot of things that could've been done that weren't done and should've been done," he said.

Martzen was pregnant when police arrested her on murder charges last year. Supporters raised money and got her out on a two million dollar bail before she gave birth in August. She's not allowed to live with her four-month-old son, but she is nursing.

The hearing to decide if she should stand trial for murder will continue in two weeks.

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