A new documentary is set to reveal the astonishing true life story of a woman who testified falsely to murder but was found innocent on the grounds that her burgeoning obesity could never have allowed her to commit the crime.
TLC’s Half-Ton Killer? tells of how, in March 2008, Texan Mayra Rosales, 31, told police officers that she had killed her two-year-old nephew, Eliseo Jr, by accidentally rolling on top of him while babysitting.
Such was her 1,100lb frame, Mayra imagined her story to be believable, but after doctors revealed that the boy could only have died from a blow to the head, the reality that she was so big she couldn’t move her arm, became her attorney’s main argument for her defence.
‘I should be punished, I did wrong,’ Mayra sobbed at the time as law enforcement officials took her tears to be those of guilt and a media storm was ignited.
‘Why isn’t this woman in jail?’ Demanded Nancy Grace at the time.
‘Could they even give her enough poison to execute her,’ asked another pundit.
But there was more to the story than met the eye, her attorney Sergio Valdez realised, after doctors announced the cause of Eliseo’s death.
Not going anywhere: Mayra (pictured with her husband Bernie) told police that she killed her nephew by accident by rolling on top of him while babysitting
The story behind Half-Ton Killer? is at once a crime thriller about sibling loyalty and a medical drama about Mayra’s journey from condemnation to freedom in January this year.
After lying to the authorities, Mayra eventually confessed the truth: that she had invented the story to protect her sister Jaime, whom she claimed had struck the boy various times over his body with a hairbrush earlier the same day.
In 2008, shortly before tragedy struck, Mayra and her husband Bernie had moved in to live with sister Jaime in Sullivan City.
Jaime had undertaken a full-time role caring for her when Mayra became so large she struggled to walk.
Despite the fact that Mayra was almost entirely bed-ridden, Jaime would often go out, leaving Mayra in charge of her four children.
‘I was more of a mother than Jaime,’ Mara said in an interview with the UK’s Reveal magazine. ‘Whenever she wanted to go out or go shopping, she didn’t take the kids. She would always leave them at home with me.’
But events took a horrific turn in March 2008, when Mayra witnessed her sister hit Eliseo Jr. ‘Jaime was giving my nephew breakfast and he didn’t want to eat,’ says Mayra. ‘I told her if he was crying he wasn’t going to eat, but she got mad, got a brush and hit him on his arms, legs and head which left a bump. Afterwards, she got his Winnie the Pooh blanket, covered him up and put him to bed. Then she went out, leaving me with the children.’
Later that day, Eliseo Jr began suffering from breathing problems and Mayra phoned for an ambulance. Jaime phoned her sister from the hospital, sobbing that the police would not let her see her son unless she told them who had hurt him. Jaime begged Mayra to tell the authorities she was responsible for the injuries.
In a move she would come to bitterly regret, Mayra accepted.
‘People may not understand this but I wanted to help my sister and I didn’t want the authorities to take the other children’ says Mayra.
‘I told the investigators that I rolled over to the edge of my bed to where Junior was and my hand slipped and I fell on him with my hand. I fell. I was the one to blame. But only by accident.’
Mayra was subsequently arrested and charged with capital murder.
The story quickly incited a media frenzy with speculation to her guilt flying freely.
But as the trial progressed, the court heard that the fatal injuries sustained by the boy were consistent with a blow to the head and could not have been caused by someone falling on him.
‘It would have required her to have to swing her arm to strike the child on the head but she could never move her arm in that manner,’ says Mayra’s lawyer Sergio Valdez.
‘We knew that her size was her best defence because she couldn’t move her arm.’
Despite the physical impossibility of Mayra committing such a crime, the authorities had to conduct a full trial, with Mayra as the chief suspect.
Months went by before a courtroom was found that was large enough to accommodate Mayra, and doors and walls had to be removed to fit her in.
Finally, Mayra could testify. But as a result of her testimony, Jaime went on the run, leaving Mayra facing the possibility of a death sentence.
‘I wasn’t surprised,’ says Mayra. ‘Jaime is into a lot of bad things and I understood why she did it.’
As the trial date approached, prosecutors became suspicious at Mayra’s account that she fell on Eliseo Jr. Mayra decided at that point to come clean with a confession that would incriminate her sister.
Testifying from her bed at home under oath, she admitted that Jaime was behind the abuse.
‘We were all trying to cover for my sister,’ she says. ‘There was abuse from her towards her son. She yelled at him. She kicked him. On that night Junior didn’t want to eat and she got frustrated and she hit him on the head with a hairbrush. I thought I was dying anyway so I decided to admit that I’d done it to protect my sister because I love her.’
A few months later, Jaime was persuaded to return to Texas where she stood trial for her son’s murder.
Pleading guilty to the lesser charge of causing injury to a child, she was sentenced to 15 years in jail.
The stress of the case caused Mayra’s health to deteriorate to the point that she had to be admitted to a hospital for the super-obese, where she remains today, confined to a hospital bed. When a regular ambulance was too small to transport her, a removal truck had to be used.
‘I began retaining more water in my legs and they got so hard,’ she says. ‘The skin is so stretched out that it hurts. It feels like my legs are going to pop like a balloon. Sometimes the sores open up and water oozes out. I wondered if we should amputate
‘Sometimes I got mad. I tried not to show it that much because I didn’t want anyone feeling bad for me. It was like I was in prison, with chains holding me there so I couldn’t move.’
Mayra has suffered chronic skin infections around her body caused by the folds of fat in her skin, and doctors attempting to treat her have removed several litres of fat and fluid from around her body.
In the first 12 weeks of hospital treatment she shed 20 stone.
Doctors have told Mayra she still has years of treatment ahead of her. Against all odds, Mayra manages to look to the future with optimism.
‘I’m really sad that my sister is in jail but I think my sister understands now that her actions were wrong. I believe she can change and learn from what happened. Today it’s like I’m getting a new chance. I never gave up on hope and faith that some day my life will change.’