When I first heard of TLC‘s new special Half-Ton Killer? a few weeks ago, I was sure I’d found the TV event of 2012. The true-crime special focused on Mayra Rosales, a woman bedridden with obesity who had allegedly killed her infant nephew by falling on top of him. It was the definition of “You can’t make this shit up” and sounded like it would easily outdo other similarly outrageous TLC shows like I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant and Virgin Diaries.
Then I watched Half-Ton Killer? and was surprised to see how respectfully the network treated the subject matter. Don’t get me wrong, the facts are still nigh-ludicrous. Here you have Mayra charged with capital murder for the death of her nephew Eliseo, only for us to discover that she was actually covering up for her sister Jamie, who had been abusing all of her kids for some time. And the cameras didn’t shy away from the jaw-dropping footage of Mayra struggling to sit up in bed or gasping in pain while her husband Bernie lovingly washed and massaged her skin. Looking at Mayra, it was difficult to believe that a human body could retain that much weight (much of it water). Her lawyer Sergio Valdez even described her as ”you don’t know whether it’s pillows or [what] here. You reach back, and again you think, all this is pillows. You make a circle, and that’s Mayra!”
Mayra’s situation affects so many details of the case. The judge agrees to let her teleconference from home during her trial because she literally cannot leave Jamie’s house. You know that the question of Can we even give her enough poison to execute her? is on everyone’s minds. That’s why it’s even more touching when Sergio visits Mayra at home, especially because from the start he doubts her story that she fell on Eliseo and crushed him. “I don’t think that a child would give someone like Mayra a chance to get into such close proximity to hit them,” he tells the cameras, and yet he’s not cruel at all, just matter-of-fact. When he asks her to reenact rolling over the edge of the bed and picking up Eliseo’s body, she starts crying.
Even though my research last week revealed that Mayra was covering for her sister and so this revelation wasn’t a “twist,” it was still fascinating to watch Mayra break down and explain her reasoning. Jamie had her first child at 15 and got saddled with several more, but when she considered getting rid of them, Mayra tried to intervene. ”Every pregnancy, she’s wanting to have an abortion. I tell her, ‘Don’t do that,’ because I will help with the kids,” she explains to the cameras.
I’m not sure which scene was harder to watch, Mayra struggling to sit up in bed or when Sergio’s team practices whacking a coconut with a hairbrush to simulate Jamie’s supposed abuse. The way the coconut cracked was just chilling and makes you wonder what the human skull does. And you wonder about what’s going on with Mayra’s sister that she would abuse her kids. Of course, Jamie fleeing across the border keeps her sister on the chopping block; Mayra could still be charged. And the worst part is, she still believes it’s her fault for not intervening on the abuse sooner.
“I don’t have a life, I’m almost dead,” she says. “I’m not even scared when they say capital murder. I should be punished. I did wrong in not telling anyone. It was in my hands to save his life, and I didn’t do anything to help him.” She’d lied because she wanted the other kids to have their mother, but then she realized it was probably better if they didn’t. She reflects, ”But then I think, maybe I did right, because I don’t want to cry for another baby. I don’t want it to happen again.”
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been watching too much 19 Kids and Counting or Breaking Amish, but I was thrown by the straightforward editing in Half-Ton Killer? This special doesn’t aim to mock Mayra, Bernie, or Jamie, simply to present their decisions without judgment. Even when Jamie turns herself in, we get what could be yet another juicy detail in the case: She claims that her husband sold her to other men. Even as we ponder how that related to the abuse, it’s not presented salaciously.
Ultimately, the charges against Mayra are dismissed. At this point she’s been carried out of her house — they broke down the walls — to a hospital for the super-obese, and she’s lost 400 pounds through surgical procedures. Jamie was sentenced to 15 years of jail. Mayra talks to Bernie over Skype, calls him “mi amor,” and I get choked up. I wasn’t sure what to expect in this special, but I didn’t expect to care about these people.