Tami Hunstman, a 40-year-old mom of three, appeared in a California courtroom Wednesday to learn the penalty she could face if convicted in the horrifying, blood-curdling torture and murder of two small children late last year. According to a report in The Salinas Californian newspaper, Hunstman broke down in tears when she heard that prosecutors would ask for her death if she is convicted in the chilling case. Her trial is set for early 2017.
The two children that Huntsman and her now-18-year-old lover Gonzalo Curiel are charged with killing were not her own kids, but were siblings — 6-year-old Shaun Tara and his 3-year-old little sister Dehlyla Tara — who had been placed in Huntsman’s care by a relative.
— Nic Coury (@photographNic) August 17, 2016
According to an account in The Plumas County News, Huntsman is the aunt of the murdered children and their 9-year-old sister, and was given custody of the children after their mother perished in a car accident.
Along with an older child, a 9-year-old girl who was also badly abused, according to a Monterey Herald report, the brother and sister lived in Salinas, California, with Huntsman, Curiel and at least three of Huntsman’s biological children.
Because Curiel was just 17 and a minor at the time of the child murders, prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty against him under California law. Curiel faces life in prison — but the death penalty case against Tami Huntsman will be the first in Monterey County, California, in about a decade.
The following video news report gives further details on the killings of Shuan and Dehlyla Tara and the arrests of Huntsman and Curiel.
Huntsman and Curiel were staying at an apartment in Quincy, California, on December 11 when police received a call requesting a “welfare check” on a child living with them. When the officers showed up, they found the severely abused and emaciated 9-year-old locked in an SUV, and they arrested Tami Hunstman and Gonzalo Curiel on child abuse and neglect charges.
The girl was found lying on the floor of the locked vehicle. She weighed only about 40 pounds at the time of her rescue and had apparently suffered multiple, prolonged beatings — suffering from a dislocated jaw, broken fingers, a fractured shoulder, several missing or loosened teeth and an infestation of lice as well as numerous open sores.
But the older girl survived her horrific injuries and was expected to recover. Not so for her younger brother and sister.
Two days after Huntsman and Curiel were arrested, the teen boy told police that there were two other children who were dead. He also told them where the bodies would be found.
FIRST LOOK at Gonzalo Curiel, 17. 2nd suspect in torture case, where 2 children found dead in Redding storage unit. pic.twitter.com/LU5m69XzQU
— Evan Schreiber (@SchreiberEvan) December 16, 2015
Investigators did find the decomposing remains of the two murdered children on December 13, stuffed into a plastic container and locked inside a rented storage unit in Redding, California — about 300 miles north of where police believe they were killed, in Salinas.
Autopsies determined that the two children died as a result of long-term physical abuse and neglect — and that they had been killed sometime around Thanksgiving of 2015.
Charges against Huntsman and Curiel were, as a result, upgraded to two counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances, allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
In February, it was revealed that Huntsman was incarcerated in Monterey County Jail as she awaits her trial, was pregnant. The child would be her fourth, after her 12-year-old twins and a 15-year-old son.
— Ana Ceballos (@ceballosap) February 23, 2016
While it remained unconfirmed that Curiel was the father of Huntsman’s latest baby, her estranged husband and father of her three children, Chris Criswell, told KSBW TV News that he blamed Curiel — who was just 16 when he and Huntsman began their relationship — for the dark and brutal turn in Huntsman’s life.
“Tami Huntsman was the perfect mother, the perfect housewife, the perfect person, up until the point she met that kid,” Criswell said.
Curiel was a friend of Huntsman and Criswell’s oldest son. The outcome of her latest pregnancy remains unclear.
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An investigation by the San Jose Mercury News found that prior to the murders of Shaun and Dehlyla Tara, Child Protective Services workers had been called to the home of Tami Huntsman about 50 times but never found reasons to remove the two doomed children from her custody. The Mercury News reported that social workers violated five separate state regulations in their dealings with Huntsman and the kids.
[Images via Salinas Police Department]