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Dad Charged in Baby's Slaying Says Jail Workers Beat Him

By  Erin Meyer and Emily Morris | April 22, 2013 1:11pm | Updated on April 22, 2013 4:29pm

CHICAGO — A man accused of smothering his 5-month-old daughter claims he has suffered jailhouse beatings since his arrest, and that "his life is in danger," his attorney said during a Monday hearing.

Rigoberto Rodriguez, 29, and Angela Petrov, 21, appeared in bond court Monday after being charged with first-degree murder late last week in the death of their daughter. The couple was initially charged with aggravated battery to a child, but that was before the baby, Angelina Rodriguez, died from her injuries.

"He has received several beatings at the jail," said Rodriguez's attorney George Zuganelis. "His life is in danger at the jail because of the charges against him. It's the sheriffs that are beating him."

Sophia Ansari, a spokeswoman with the Cook County Sheriff's Office rejected those claims.

"Mr. Rodriguez's allegations are baseless," she said. "He was provided a protective custody housing assignment the same day his request was made."

Assistant Public Defender Marijane Placek objected to the judge's order that Petrov be barred from having any contact with her 6-year-old son, who allegedly witnessed Rodriguez muffling the baby's cries.

"Imagine that you are the child of a mother who has been taken into custody. You would bear the burden for the rest of your life," Placek said.

Petrov, who sobbed quietly throughout the hearing, should be on suicide watch, her attorney said. Bond for Petrov was set at $500,000 and $1.5 million for Rodriguez.

The couple were drinking in their apartment in the 2500 block of West Fitch Avenue on April 11 while the baby was sleeping, prosecutors said.

As the girl began to cry, Petrov picked the baby up and gave her a bottle, prosecutors said.

As Angelina continued to sob, Rodriguez took the infant from her mother and allegedly put his hand over the baby's mouth. The girl's mother was in the room as Rodriguez muffled the baby on and off as the infant gasped for air.

The third time Rodriguez covered his daughter's mouth, the baby went limp, according to prosecutors.

The couple then placed the baby in a playpen, had sex and went to bed, prosecutors said.

About 11 a.m. on April 12, Rodriguez and Petrov noticed Angelina was stiff and unresponsive in the playpen, prosecutors said. The couple threw water on the girl's face and tried to perform CPR. Petrov eventually called 911.

Angelina was first taken St. Francis Hospital before being transferred to Lurie Children's Hospital.

Angelina was pronounced dead at Lurie Children's Hospital at 3:36 p.m. Monday, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.

The baby suffered brain swelling due to the smothering and was on life support with limited or no brain activity, prosecutors said. Doctors also noted that the baby had a skull fracture from a previous incident, prosecutors said. It was unclear what caused the fracture.

Rodriguez and Petrov recently were engaged, according to Rodriguez's mother, Crucita Rivera.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services was investigating both Rodriguez and Petrov for neglect and abuse after receiving a hotline call, agency spokesman Dave Clarkin said. The couple's other children have been placed with a family member, Clarkin said.

DCFS began an investigation into the parents after Jan. 29, when they received a hotline call that a different child was being abused, Clarkin said. But DCFS did not remove the couple's other kids from the Far North Side home until last week's incident.

Petrov has two kids with Rodriguez and a child from another relationship, according to Rivera.

The baby's grandmother has blamed DCFS for not intervening sooner.

"DCFS knew there was something going on," Rivera said.

Prosecutors said Rigoberto Rodriguez eventually admitted to police that he put his hand over his infant daughter's mouth repeatedly.