On January 5, 2017, police in Kyle, Texas, responded to a house call that would leave many horrified to their core.
In the home was the mutilated body of 5-year-old Giovanna Hernandez, who had been stabbed repeatedly as well as decapitated. But the alarming part of the story was who had murdered her and for what reasons. The girl’s 27-year-old mother, Krystal Villanueva, was found guilty this week of brutally murdering her child after she made a simple request: a bowl of cereal. The judge has sentenced her to a life in prison.
The attack happened at a home Villanueva shared with Giovanna, the child’s father, Refugio Hernandex Jr., along with his parents. Eustorgio Arellano phoned 911 that day to report that Villanueva attacked him, according to a statement from the Hays County Police Department.
In the statement, he says she had come at him “without warning” from behind, stabbing him repeatedly in the back and head. The judge additionally sentenced Villanueva 20 years in prison for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for attacking Arellano, according to People.
Eventually, the girl’s grandfather was able to flee the home and dialed 911 after reaching safety.
When speaking to 911 operators, he informed them his 5-year-old granddaughter was still in the home with Villanueva and likely in danger. SWAT teams and crisis negotiators were alerted, with authorities prepping themselves for what they believed to be a potential hostage situation.
But quickly after, Villanueva made a 911 call of her own, admitting to police she had killed Giovanna because “she asked for cereal.” The mom had allegedly done so prior to walking into another room and stabbing her father-in-law.
When police arrived on the scene, they were met by a disturbing scene. SWAT team members discovered Villanueva nude in the front room in the house, looking like she had just showered. She was quickly restrained and taken into custody, as authorities rushed through the residence to find her daughter.
And just moments later, the body of Giovanna was found moments later inside a bedroom, brutally stabbed and decapitated. Villanueva was under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana at the time of the murder according to blood testing, but her legal team would go on to request the jury to not find her guilty by reason of insanity.
“Ms. Villanueva claimed that, at the time of the attacks, she had been under the delusional belief that her daughter and her father-in-law had been replaced by clones and had to be killed to bring back her real family members,” the press release from Hays County Police stated.
Both friends and family shared how Villanueva had struggled with her mental health in the past, along with the family being visited by CPS before. But even still, they ere unable to wrap their heads around what happened inside the family’s home that day.
“I couldn’t believe it,” an unnamed friend revealed to KXAN. “It’s not her, she would never do something like that to her own daughter. She loved her.”
And when it came to Villanueva’s battle with drugs and alcohol, in addition to her mental health, the friend shared that, “She tried to get help. I don’t know if she just relapsed or … I really can’t say what happened.”
“We’ve always been there for her. We tried to save her so many times,” another friend admitted.
“I feel like I failed her as a friend by not being there,” another said. “By not being able to help her get through whatever she was going through.”
Throughout Villanueva’s trial, the defense urged for an insanity verdict.
In cross-examination, the prosecution argued that Villanueva had been treated multiple times for mental health-related issues in the past, stating how “all such treatment coincided with prior drug abuse, and that the symptoms described by Ms. Villanueva at trial had never been observed in her prior to or after her arrest.”
A psychiatric expert provided by the defense noted how marijuana use can “exacerbate existing mental conditions and interfere with treatment.”
“I’ve been in this line of work for over 43 years — 11 years as a homicide detective,” Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler shared with the newspaper. “This is one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen and been a part of.”
“A case like this leaves an unforgettable mark on everyone involved, especially the child’s family,” Hays County Criminal District Attorney Wes Mau shared. “Every law enforcement member who worked on this case will forever be traumatized by what Ms. Villanueva did to her innocent daughter. I commend all the investigators and officers who endured this horror with calm professionalism so that justice could be done.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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