MARTINEZ — In a resolution to one of Contra Costa’s most horrifying criminal cases in recent memory, a Rodeo man and woman have accepted wildly different prison terms for prolonged abuse of their 11-year-old daughter, Annai Diaz, who went unresponsive and died inside the couple’s home.
Annai’s father, 33-year-old Rene Diaz, 33, will serve a sentence of seven years to life after pleading no contest to torture, while Annai’s stepmom, 31-year-old Crystal Diaz, will serve a six-year prison term after pleading no contest to child abuse with great bodily injury. The couple entered their no contest pleas last week, and sentencing has been set for mid-September, court records show.
Rene and Crystal Diaz had not only been accused of torture and mayhem, but of murdering Annai, whose death was initially ruled a homicide but later changed to “undetermined” by the Contra Costa County coroner. The evidence of torture included third degree burn marks on Annai that were allegedly caused by a meat fork,
Annai died on March 23, 2021, after the couple called 9-1-1 to report that she had gone unresponsive inside their home. When police began investigating, they found evidence Annai’s father and stepmom were not just physically abusing her, but depriving her of a blanket at night, handcuffing her to their bed, forcing her to take cold showers, and hitting her with their hands or a wooden spoon, according to police.
Details of Annai’s death remain murky. Dr. Arnold Josselson, the pathologist who conducted her autopsy, wrote in a public report that there was a large buildup of fluid around Annai’s heart that “indicates possible heart failure” caused by trauma. But he also noted that the human body can often tolerate slow buildups of such fluid, so “while the cause of death may be heart failure, it may not be the cause.” He also couldn’t completely rule out smothering, and said that while her death would be ruled undetermined, “the circumstances are suspicious.”
At the time of Annai’s death, many in the West Contra Costa community were already reeling from news just one month earlier that a 5-week-old infant boy had died in Richmond, allegedly at the hands of his parents. By coincidence, the murder trial for the boy’s parents, Ray Ray Darn, 37, and mother, Marilyn Northington, 30, is slated to started in mid-September, around the same time that Rene and Crystal Diaz will be formally sentenced.