Jurors began hearing a case Monday that will ask them to determine whether a toddler’s illness was the result of endangerment from her mother or the accidental injection of an HPV vaccine.

Attorneys for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services are suing Victoria mother Anita Vasquez, 36, to terminate her parental rights for 22-month-old Aniya Blu Vasquez. They claim the child struggled to gain weight and was hospitalized for severe medical problems because of her mother’s actions.

“I would like a hashtag movement (called) #KeepAniyaSafe,” said Shelly Merritt, an attorney representing the state, to jurors. “It’s what she deserves.”

Accused mom's custody case proceeding to trial

But Vasquez’s attorney, Chris Branson, of Houston, told jurors the allegations against his client were “nonsense” and based on “an assumption.”

He also asked jurors to hold state attorneys to the strict burden of “clear and convincing evidence” that they are required to meet when the custody of a child is at stake. That burden, one lower than the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt requirement used in criminal cases, is the highest available in civil court.

Aniya, who for now remains in the custody of her paternal grandparents, is represented by private attorney Esperanza Barron, of Victoria.

“She is the reason we are here,” Barron said.

During the jury selection process Monday morning, Judge Jack Marr said the trial could take as long as two weeks.

Branson said he planned to call as many as 14 witnesses. Attorneys for the state and Barron declined to comment, and a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokeswoman did not answer phone calls Monday.

Anita Vasquez, who is a registered nurse, first took the stand after jurors were selected, describing Aniya’s battle with persistent health problems in 2017.

Under Merritt’s questioning, Vasquez said dangerously low sodium levels and “failure to thrive” caused her then-infant daughter to be hospitalized – at least once in an intensive care unit.

Aniya’s health problems disappeared after Vasquez was restricted from feeding her.

But Vasquez and her attorney pointed to another possibility for the child’s health problems.

Vasquez said those problems manifested after a Victoria doctor accidentally administered to Aniya an HPV vaccine meant for her 14-year-old son.

After the mistake, Aniya suffered not only physical symptoms such as fever and weakness but also psychological changes, such as lip smacking and staring spells, Vasquez said.

Doctors don’t know the cause of Aniya’s illness and have no reason to accuse Vasquez of endangerment, she said.

Trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached jwilcox@vicad.com or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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