New Mexico Supreme Courtroom Overturns Convictions In Deadly Baby Abuse Case

NMSC News:

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Supreme Court on Thursday overturned an Albuquerque man’s convictions of child molestation and conspiracy to commit child molestation in the death of a 14-month-old boy in 2015.

A divided court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support Christopher Garcia’s belief in willful child abuse resulting in death from the risk of medical neglect. The court unanimously overturned Garcia’s conviction. Garcia was sentenced to life in prison plus an additional four years.

The majority in the court dismissed both charges because double exposure protection prohibits retrial unless there is sufficient evidence to support the defendant’s beliefs.

Judge David K. Thomson opposed the majority decision on the child molestation conviction, but the majority agreed that Garcia’s conspiracy conviction should be overturned.

Garcia and his wife Lizy Portillo babysit Isaac Arevalos when the boy sustained injuries that resulted in multiple bruises on his head and body. Although the toddler passed out, Garcia did not call 911 for emergency medical assistance. He called the child’s mother and told her the boy fell off a bed and hit his head on a bedside table. After Garcia brought the child back to the mother, she told her not to tell the police that the child had been with him and his wife. The mother called paramedics, but the boy died two days later of brain injuries related to lack of oxygen.

“Isaac’s death was undoubtedly tragic,” wrote the majority of the court in a statement from Judge Barbara J. Vigil. “There is no question that Isaac’s injuries were serious and resulted in his death. However, the jury acquitted the defendants to inflict these injuries or to allow someone else to inflict these injuries on Isaac. And despite the gravity of Isaac’s injuries, we believe that the state has not produced sufficient evidence to prove that the defendant caused Isaac’s death through medical neglect, or that the defendant and his wife consented to abuse Isaac. We are reminded of our responsibility, in this instance, to ensure that beliefs are supported by evidence, not just speculation or guesswork. “

In order for the child molestation conviction to stand, prosecutors had to prove that Garcia was “factual, but due to the death of the child” or, in other words, that the child would not have died when and how the child died without the accused being involved had received the necessary medical care. “

But no medical expert “stated with reasonable medical certainty that Isaac would have lived with previous medical care,” the majority said.

“The evidence presented in this case could not even establish that it was likely that Isaac would have lived or lived longer if he had received immediate medical attention. To convict the accused, the jury had to speculate that Isaac would have survived if the accused had immediately called 9-1-1, ”wrote the majority in the court.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Thomson concluded that there was enough evidence to support Garcia’s child molestation conviction, but there should be a new trial against the prosecution. The judge’s jury instructions created “jury confusion and misdirection” by inappropriating the law on how to view Garcia as the “immediate” or legal cause of the baby’s death in the absence of medical assistance was explained, wrote the judiciary.

The judiciary also questioned the majority test to determine whether a person charged with child molestation is legally responsible for the victim’s death due to medical neglect.

“I believe it sets an unattainable standard of evidence,” wrote Justice Thomson. “The possibility that a defendant is guilty because the behavior found is a major cause of death is identified, and a defendant must now be the sole cause of death.”

In overturning Garcia’s conspiracy conviction, the court found that “while there is evidence that Isaac sustained serious injuries while in the custody of the defendant and Portillo, there was no evidence that the jury could even conclude that the defendant had an agreement met with Portillo to inflict these injuries. ”

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