(KRON) — A preliminary hearing is underway for a San Jose father whose 3-month-old daughter, Baby Phoenix, fatally overdosed on fentanyl inside their San Jose apartment. On Thursday, David Castro’s defense attorney re-directed blame over the baby’s death toward the mother.

Testimony delivered on Day 3 of the hearing painted a portrait of what can go wrong when parents of a helpless baby are both in the throes of drug addiction.

Phoenix died on May 13, 2023 from a toxic combination of methamphetamine and fentanyl, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. Castro, 38, is charged with felony child endangerment, and he faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The father has pleaded not guilty.

In the hours leading up to Phoenix’s overdose, Castro was trying to get more drugs from his dealer, according to text messages shown in court Thursday. At 6:36 p.m. on May 12, Castro texted his dealer, “You got that strong s**t? Let me know.”

While cross-examining the case’s lead detective on the stand, a defense attorney asked many questions focusing on Phoenix’s deceased mother, Emily De La Cerda.

Castro had sole custody of Phoenix, and he was alone with his baby at home when he noticed she was unresponsive, according to testimony. The father called 911 reporting that his baby was not breathing in their apartment at 5479 Spinnaker Walkway. The detective testified that the home was littered with drug paraphernalia, and fentanyl was found on Phoenix’s onesie pajamas.

Defense attorney Mishya Singh focused in on Phoenix’s visit with De La Cerda at her residential drug addiction treatment program on May 11. The mother had recently been released from jail and was living at the rehab facility. Singh raised the possibility that De La Cerda may have intentionally given her daughter fentanyl at the rehab to stop her from crying.

The baby’s visit with De La Cerda lasted a few hours. During the May 11 visit, De La Cerda text messaged Castro several times saying she didn’t know how to open the baby’s bottle to feed Phoenix formula, and she didn’t know how to calm the baby down from crying. The father picked up his baby that evening and took Phoenix home.

The county’s Child Protective Services agents were aware of the couple even before Phoenix was born. Two of the couple’s children were previously taken away by CPS and the couple lost custody.

When De La Cerda gave birth to Phoenix, the mother and newborn had fentanyl in their systems, according to testimony. Castro was given full custody of Phoenix and random drug tests from a CPS agent.

After Phoenix died, he admitted to police that he was still regularly using methamphetamine and fentanyl during his daughter’s very short lifetime. In court on Thursday, prosecutors showed how frequently he called and text messaged his drug dealer asking for narcotics.

Castro was interrogated by San Jose Police Department detectives on October 19, the same day he was arrested.

A prosecutor played a video tape in court of the interrogation. Castro told detectives that when Phoenix was still alive, he allowed friends and drug dealers to use narcotics in his home, but never in the same room as the baby.

He also told police that, as a single dad his life was “boring,” he didn’t throw parties at home, and he wanted to be a good father for his baby, Det. Mike Harrington testified.

In the tape, Castro says, “I had people over, yes, and they use at the same time. but not a party or anything like that. It was kind of boring, most of it was boring. I’m a single father. Nothing crazy, no parties.”

Detectives peppered Castro with questions to find out if he was aware of potential dangers created by using narcotics around young children. Castro said when he met with CPS, case workers gave him a DVD about CPR, but CPS never provided any information or warnings about drug use.

Phoenix’s mother suffered several overdoses and survived, he told police.

On September 16, 2023, De La Cerda died at 5479 Spinnaker Walkway from a fentanyl overdose, police said. The following month, a toxicology lab result revealed the same cause of death for her baby, and San Jose Police Department officers arrested Castro.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney said the father’s behavior showed “clear disregard” for Phoenix’s health and well-being. Prosecutors wrote, “unlike a toddler, who can move around, grab things, or crawl into small places, a 3-month-old child is completely immobile and is entirely dependent on her caretaker to receive food, nutrients, and care.”

Castro told the detectives that he didn’t use drugs on the day before or day of Phoenix’s death. He couldn’t remember how many days he had been clean and sober. “I’m not sure,” he said.

The defense attorney said Castro was drug tested on the day Phoenix died. The test results were clean. Police never drug tested De La Cerda, the defense pointed out. 

During cross-examination, Singh grilled Det. Harrington, questioning why De La Cerda was never treated as a suspect. Singh asked, “Did anyone visit Emily (at the rehab) and provide her with fentanyl or methamphetamine? Did anyone search her?”

Det. Harrington answered, “I don’t know. She was not seen as a suspect in this case.”

Singh asked, “Wouldn’t it be important to determine whether or not the baby had been exposed by the mother? Thirty-six hours before her death, Baby Phoenix was in the care of her mother, correct? You did not search her purse or vehicle?”

Singh showed the court text messages that the couple exchanged while the mother was struggling to feed and soothe her baby at rehab. De La Cerda told Castro to hurry up and pick up Phoenix because the baby was “crabby.”

Castro replied, “How are you going to be a mother later on?” according to the defense.

The mother wrote back, “Damn, she’s a screamer if you don’t have her food ready,” text messages shown in court stated. When Phoenix became “crabby again,” the mother said she didn’t know what to do. Castro suggested holding the baby and burping her. 

The defense attorney said, “She’s telling Mr. Castro that Phoenix is crying. Fentanyl can make someone who is agitated calm, lethargic. If the baby is crying, you could give them fentanyl to calm them down, that’s a possibility, right?” 

Singh added, “Emily had no problem with using fentanyl and exposing Phoenix to fentanyl while she was pregnant.”

During a taped police interrogation, Castro can be heard saying he usually smokes fentanyl using a bong, or by boiling it, also known as “chasing the dragon. Obviously, I wouldn’t do it near (the baby.)”

Castro told detectives that he decorated his infant’s baby room and he took good care of his daughter. Phoenix usually slept in her bassinet. Around 1 a.m. on May 13, she woke up crying, so Castro gave her a bottle and changed her diaper. After the baby became sleepy again, the father and infant fell asleep together on a couch. Before sunrise, Castro woke up, realized something was wrong, and started performing CPR on Phoenix, he told detectives.

Evidence presented in court for the preliminary hearing revealed that investigators are not 100 percent sure exactly when Phoenix overdosed on drugs. On Wednesday, a coroner testified that the baby died about 24-36 hours before the father called 911 in the early morning hours of May 13, the Mercury News reported. But Castro told police that he didn’t realize anything was wrong until he woke up that morning.

On Thursday, the defense attorney showed dozens of baby photos that Castro snapped of his daughter during her 3-month-long life. In the photos, the infant appears healthy and clean. The defense also played videos of Castro playing baby games with his daughter.

“When parents are entrenched in using drugs, the children can also be neglected. She appears healthy,” Singh said.

The detective on the witness stand responded, “Yes, she appears, adorable.”

After the hearing concludes, a Santa Clara County judge will decide if prosecutors have enough evidence for the case to move forward to trial.

Castro’s criminal history includes two felony and 16 misdemeanor convictions. Eight of his 18 convictions were for drug-related crimes dating back to 2011.