Janesville33.8°

People protest plea deal in child abuse case

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Shelly Birkelo
Gina Duwe
July 9, 2009
— More than a dozen people protested outside the Rock County Courthouse about a child-abuse case Wednesday before the accused man struck a plea agreement and was sentenced to two years of probation.

"We want Janesville to make a stand against child abuse," said Toni Carter, Janesville.


Carter and a dozen others stood in the rain at the corner of Court and Main streets, holding protest signs. They were trying to bring the public's attention to the case of Norbert Cruz Cantu III, 28, Beloit. He is accused of abusing a 3-year-old girl—the daughter of his ex-girlfriend—at a Janesville grocery store in December 2008.


In court Wednesday, Cantu pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of battery and disorderly conduct. Judge Richard Werner put Cantu on two years probation and held restitution open.


Cantu originally was charged with felony intentional child abuse.


Assistant District Attorney Gwanny Tjoa acknowledged that the girl's father, Mike Wilder, was not happy with the charges or the sentencing recommendation, but Tjoa told the court he couldn't prove a felony beyond a reasonable doubt.


Tjoa said Cantu and the girl's mother, Stephanie A. Witt, 21, formerly of Janesville, first told police they didn't know what happened to the girl. Then they gave a different statement saying the girl hit her head after Witt pushed her down the stairs, Tjoa said.


Witt is charged with two counts of felony child abuse and is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 13.


The girl was taken to Mercy Hospital in Janesville and flown to UW Children's Hospital in Madison.


She was bleeding in her brain and had surgery to relieve pressure from the bleeding. A portion of her skull had to be removed.


The surgeon told investigators the girl might not regain her full brain function.


Outside the courthouse Wednesday, Carter carried a sign reading, "No plea bargains for child abuse. Harsher penalties for child abuse."


"We want people to know we're supporting children. We want this community to come together and make a stand against child abuse and charges of child abuse being lessened or plead down," Carter said.


Neighbors Amanda Hunter and Bob Crandall, both of Janesville, brought three children to protest.


"We've been outraged with the entire story from the beginning," Hunter said.


Crandall agreed: "If this guy can do this to a 3-year-old, he can do this to anyone, anytime, anywhere. He poses a danger to this community and any other child he is in close contact with."


Wilder, of Rockton, Ill., was pleased with the public support and hoped it would put pressure on the judge.


"I want the truth about what happened to my daughter," he said, "and to make sure this doesn't happen to any other child."



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