Tuesday, January 19, 2021

January 19: Relatives Catch Clinic Owner Trying to Dispose of Body

Like the deaths of Jacqueline Smith and Barbara Lofrumento, the story of 27-year-old Angela Nieto Sanchez involves an illegal abortion and an attempt to hide the body. The difference is that Angela believed that she was entrusting herself to a safe, legal abortion clinic.

Angela and the Children at the Clinic

On January 19, 1993, Angela went to Clinica Feminina de la Comunidad with two of her four children: 12-year-old Maria and her little brother, identified in one source as 2-year-old Victor and in another as 3-year-old Martin.

Angela's family is adamant that Angela, who was one month pregnant, wasn't seeking an abortion. They said that she was excited about the pregnancy and was hoping it would be a girl so Maria would have a sister. Angela's sister Celia said that someone from the facility had called Angela, telling her to come in for a consultation about the pregnancy.

As an illegal alien who worked as a maid, Angela wasn't entitled to medical assistance to pay for a $2,000 hospital abortion, but would have been able to afford a $300 clinic abortion. According to prosecutors, she paid $280 in cash up front.

Bewildered Children

Maria and her little brother waited for their mother in the lobby. A clinic staffer approached Maria and suggested that she take the car and drive her brother home. Maria protested that she was too young to drive. The children continued to wait for their mother.

At around noon, another staffer, later identified as Irsema Mendoza, took the children to lunch at a nearby fast-food joint. When they returned to the clinic, Angela's car was gone, and Maria was told that her mother had gone to another clinic. The children continued to wait, but when their mother failed to appear Maria finally called her uncle, Hemiberto Sanchez, who took them home with him.

A Ghastly Scene

By 10:00, Angela's family was frantic. They began calling hospitals and searching the neighborhood for their missing loved on. Maria's aunt Celia and two friends took the girl to the clinic to look for the missing woman. When they arrived, they saw Angela's car. Maria jumped out of her aunt's pickup truck and ran to the car. 

"I saw them dragging something from the clinic," Maria tearfully testified at trial two years later. "I asked where my mother was. [One of the two women] said she didn't know. Then I saw it was my mother. I saw her drop my mother's legs."

Maria asked two women what had happened to her mother, and they told her, "She's dead." 

Sobbing, Maria clung to and kissed her mother's body while the two women from the clinic told Celia that a man had shoved Angela from a car and they were just now picking her up. One of the women was Alicia Ruiz Hanna, age 32, who operated the facility. Hanna told Maria and Cecelia that Angela had just come knocking on the clinic window, then collapsed.

Celia put her sister's stiffened body in the back of her truck and flagged down a policeman, who led her and Maria to a hospital. There, Celia was told that her sister had been dead for several hours.

The Clinic Owner's Story

Hanna was arrested and brought to Orange County Jail. In a taped interview, she told police, "I did not do anything bad. I was there for her. I'm innocent." She said that she did not attempt to perform an abortion but had only discussed the option with Angela. 

She said that Angela left the clinic. Several hours later, Hanna said, a man drove up to the clinic driveway with Angela's unconscious body in the car then fled the scene. She said that she'd been dragging Angela's body out of the car to provide aid when the woman's relatives arrived.

"She was really cold, and I was trying to pull her out." She added, "I didn't know if she had fainted or she was dead. I never touched a dead body before."

When police noted that Hanna didn't seem distressed over Angela's death, she insisted that she had cried along with Maria. "You were crying for yourself," the investigator told her. "We've been here for hours and you've shown no remorse."

"What do you want me to do," Hanna retorted, "cry so that you think it's my fault? Come on. Give me a break."

Hanna was released after an original decision not to prosecute. After a six month investigation, prosecutors decided to charge her with murder. It took a month for police to track her down and take her into custody. 

The Truth Comes Out

Hanna gave conflicting stories, even in court. She testified that getting the results of a positive pregnancy test, Angela had insisted that she wanted an abortion. Hanna said that she'd told Angela that she was not licensed to perform abortions and suggested that she go to another clinic or return on a day when a doctor would be available. Hanna claimed that Angela had been insistent that she was having trouble with her boyfriend and couldn't take off work another day for an abortion.

Hanna, who had been passing herself off as a doctor and performing abortions at the facility, had given Angela Valium to calm her and an injection to induce abortion. Angela vomited, foamed at the mouth, and went into a seizure, then stopped breathing. Hanna said that she'd run down the hall and got Narcan, which she injected in the hopes that it would reverse the effects of the Valium.  Hanna and her staff attempted to revive her. However, the clinic's emergency equipment wasn't operative and the oxygen tank was empty. Even if she had been trained and had known what she was supposed to do, Hanna would have been unable to revive her patient. 

One of Hanna's employees even tried to call 911 to summon first responders, who were less than a mile away at a fire station. Hanna told her employee, "No, I'll save her -- we'll get in trouble" and hung up the phone. Hanna feared that she would go to jail and lose her children if it was discovered that she was running the clinic illegally. She did, however, make a call to her husband and ask him to bring another oxygen tank. "I was not thinking straight," Hanna later testified. "In my mind I still had hope of bringing her back to life."

Once it became clear that Angela was dead, Hanna decided to await and opportunity to put Angela's stiffening body into the trunk of her own car and have a former employee help her to abandon the vehicle in Tijuana.

How Hanna Turned her Hand to Abortion

Hanna's clinic had been tied up with abortionist Dr. Nicholas George Braemer. Hanna had opened a business, under the name of C.J. Professional Management Co., on February 4, 1992, as a limited partnership with Braemer. Braemer said that he'd run a "family planning practice" there for four or five months, up until May or June, having sublet the space from Hanna, who was also running Family Health and Weight Control Center at the location. "When I disassociated with the clinic, I expected my name would go off the door because the name is registered to me." He made a formal complaint to the medical board about the lack of a name change after his departure from the facility. However, the clinic itself was evidently never licensed.

Hanna had originally used doctors to perform the abortions but eventually started doing them herself as a cost-cutting measure.

"A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing"

Alicia Ruiz Hanna in court
Prosecutor Rick King characterized Hanna as "a wolf in sheep's clothing. She's very attractive, has a very soothing voice. The clientele she reached out to -- who were mostly illegal aliens looking for guidance -- she would counsel them, which many times resulted in them having abortions done by her."

"When it came down to Alicia Hanna's hide or the victim's hide, the victim was going to lose," King said. "There was a conscious decision made by Alicia Hanna, and the conscious decision was: 'I'm not going to get caught.'"

In December 1994, Hanna was convicted of second-degree murder for Angela's death. Jury foreman Charles Buezis said that the jury had no trouble finding Hanna guilty. "There really wasn't a lot of sympathy for her." The jurors especially didn't appreciate Hanna's efforts to blame the victim by claiming that Angela was high on drugs when she arrived at the clinic. Another juror said of Hanna, "She was her own worst enemy."

When she heard the verdict, Hanna covered her face and wept.

Hanna was also found guilty of performing abortions illegally on Angela and on two other women who survived. Hanna admitted to having performed an additional six or eight illegal abortions by injecting them with Methergine, a drug used to induce contractions and cause an abortion.

During the sentencing hearing, a representative of the family read letters from Angela's mother and daughter. "I'm destroyed emotionally. I will never forget these horrible crimes," said Maria, then aged 14. The prosecutor asked for the maximum sentence, asserting that Hanna had showed "conscious disregard for human life" in her failure to summon the nearby help. 

Hanna's public defender asked that the charge be reduced because she hadn't tried to kill the victim. "She was wrong in practicing medicine without a license, but that's involuntary manslaughter, not murder." He stressed Hanna's attempts to revive Angela. "She did what she could. A person who is a murderer doesn't want to save the life of their victim."

She was sentenced to 15 years to life for Angela's death and another 16 months for the related charges. She appealed her sentence but it was upheld by the US Supreme Court in January of 2000.

 As for Angela Sanchez's four motherless children, they were taken in by family members in Mexico.


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