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Calif. woman accused in toddler chili powder death

VICTORVILLE, Calif. (AP) – A Southern California woman pleaded not guilty on Thursday to murder and assault charges stemming from the death of a 2-year-old girl who died from complications after eating chili powder.

Amanda Sorensen, 21, entered her plea to one count each of murder and assault on a child causing death in a Victorville courtroom and was ordered held on $1 million bail. She is scheduled to return to court Jan. 17.

A telephone message left for Sorensen’s court-appointed lawyer was not immediately returned.

The girl, identified in court documents as Joileen G., was found at an Apple Valley home over the weekend suffering from a seizure after ingesting the kitchen spice, authorities said. The girl, who is the daughter of Sorenson’s boyfriend, was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.

Results of the child’s autopsy were pending.

Investigators declined to elaborate on the case, including providing a motive.

“We felt the evidence supported the charges,” said Kathleen DiDonato, a prosecutor with the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office.

DiDonato’s boss, District Attorney Michael Ramos, recently formed a unit focused on prosecuting major crimes against children.

Ramos cited the difficulty in prosecuting such cases because often there are no witnesses and children sometimes are unable to testify. There were more than 30 crimes against children last year in San Bernardino County that includes murder, assault and torture. In 2011, there were more than 50 such crimes.

“It’s sad to say we need a major crimes against children unit for this reason,” DiDonato said of the chili powder case.

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