State v. Garcia, 010821 NMSC, S-1-SC-36121

Docket NºS-1-SC-36121
Opinion JudgeBARBARA J. VIGIL, JUSTICE
Party NameSTATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. CHRISTOPHER BERT GARCIA, Defendant-Appellant.
AttorneyJustine Fox-Young, P.C. Justine C. Fox-Young Albuquerque, NM for Appellant Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General John J. Woykovsky, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Appellee
Judge PanelWE CONCUR: MICHAEL E. VIGIL, Chief Justice C. SHANNON BACON, Justice JUDITH K. NAKAMURA, Justice, Retired, sitting by designation DAVID K. THOMSON, Justice, dissenting in part and concurring in part
Case DateJanuary 08, 2021
CourtSupreme Court of New Mexico

STATE OF NEW MEXICO, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

CHRISTOPHER BERT GARCIA, Defendant-Appellant.

No. S-1-SC-36121

Supreme Court of New Mexico

January 8, 2021

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF BERNALILLO COUNTY Cristina T. Jaramillo, District Judge

Justine Fox-Young, P.C. Justine C. Fox-Young Albuquerque, NM for Appellant

Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General John J. Woykovsky, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Appellee

OPINION

BARBARA J. VIGIL, JUSTICE

{¶1} Fourteen-month-old Isaac Arevalos (Isaac) died as a result of injuries he suffered while in the care of Defendant Christopher Garcia and Defendant's wife. The State charged Defendant with two counts of intentional child abuse resulting in the death of a child under twelve, including numerous alternatives and lesser included offenses. At trial, the State proposed two theories of child abuse. First, the State alleged that Defendant inflicted the injuries on Isaac or permitted his wife to do so. Second, the State advanced a theory of medical neglect, alleging that Isaac died as a result of Defendant's decision not to call 9-1-1 after Isaac was injured.

{¶2} The jury found Defendant not guilty of inflicting the injuries or permitting them to be inflicted, but found him guilty of child abuse under a theory of medical neglect. Reviewing Defendant's conviction on direct appeal, we hold that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the delay in medical care caused Isaac's death. Defendant was additionally convicted of conspiracy to commit child abuse. Considering the evidence presented, we hold that it was insufficient to prove that Defendant and his wife agreed to commit child abuse against Isaac.

{¶3} Isaac's death was undeniably tragic. There is no question that Isaac's injuries were severe and resulted in his death. Yet, the jury acquitted Defendant of inflicting those injuries or permitting another to inflict those injuries on Isaac. And despite the severity of Isaac's injuries, we hold the State failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that Defendant caused Isaac's death by medical neglect or that Defendant and his wife agreed to abuse Isaac. We are reminded in this case of our responsibility to ensure that convictions are supported by the evidence and not merely by speculation or conjecture. State v. Flores, 2010-NMSC-002, ¶ 2, 147 N.M. 542, 226 P.3d 641. Accordingly, we reverse Defendant's convictions and dismiss the charges in order to avoid a double jeopardy violation. State v. Consaul, 2014-NMSC-030, ¶ 41, 332 P.3d 850; see also State v. Luna, 2018-NMCA-025, ¶ 27, 458 P.3d 457 (citing State

v. Dowling, 2011-NMSC-016, ¶ 18, 150 N.M. 110, 257 P.3d 930 (holding that retrial is barred by double jeopardy if the court concludes that there was insufficient evidence at trial to support a conviction)).

I.

BACKGROUND

{¶4} Defendant was tried before a jury on two counts of child abuse resulting in death and one count of conspiracy to commit child abuse in connection with Isaac's death in March 2015. The following testimony was presented at Defendant's trial.

{¶5} Isaac was the son of Carmina Vargas (Vargas) and Ramon Arevalos (Arevalos). Defendant and his wife, Lizy Portillo (Portillo), would babysit Isaac several times a week, with Isaac sometimes spending the night. On Saturday, March 21, Vargas asked Defendant and Portillo to watch Isaac while she and Arevalos worked on fixing up a mobile home that they planned on living in together. The next evening, Defendant and Portillo brought Isaac over to the mobile home for a visit. At trial, Vargas recalled that Isaac seemed "normal" and "happy" and had no visible marks on his body, and Arevalos described Isaac as "healthy" and "smiling." Over the next two days, Vargas and Portillo arranged multiple times to have Isaac returned, but Defendant and Portillo never did so.

{¶6} At 4:36 a.m. on Wednesday, March 25, Vargas received a panicked call from Defendant saying that Isaac had fallen off the bed and hit the nightstand. Defendant told Vargas that he could not keep Isaac awake and that he would bring Isaac to her, but Vargas decided to go and get Isaac herself. Vargas testified that she saw Defendant driving fast with his hazard lights on and flagged him down. She recalled: He opened the door and he starting unbuckling [Isaac] from the car seat. And he just handed me [Isaac] through the window, and that's when I felt . . . that he wasn't right. And all he kept telling me was, "He's lifeless, he's lifeless, and I don't know what to do." . . . And when I looked back, he said, "Just don't tell the cops that we had the baby, because if you tell the cops, they're going to call [Children, Youth, and Families Department] on you." And he got in his truck, and he just left me there.

Vargas then drove Isaac to Arevelos's house, roughly two minutes away. She testified that Isaac's breathing was slow and "hollow" and that he was "[g]asping for air." At the house, Vargas gave Isaac to Arevalos and called 9-1-1. Arevalos testified that Isaac "had a couple bumps on his forehead [and] cheeks" and "looked . . . palish, purplish, like he wasn't breathing." Arevalos and his mother each performed CPR on Isaac.

{¶7} According to the testimony of paramedic Joseph Drevenak, paramedics were dispatched at 4:52 a.m. and took roughly six minutes to arrive at the Arevalos home. When they arrived, Isaac displayed "decorticate posturing" and a clenched jaw, both indicative of a head injury. Drevenak noticed that Isaac had bruising on his chest, arms, and legs and had "blood around his nose and mouth." Isaac was breathing at a rate of about two breaths per minute, lower than the twenty-five to thirty breaths per minute normal for a child Isaac's age. Paramedics used a "bag valve mask" on Isaac to "force breaths into him" and provided him with supplemental oxygen. By the time they got to the University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH) at 5:17 a.m., Isaac was breathing on his own and at a normal rate, although his breathing remained labored. During an examination later that morning, Isaac regained consciousness but did not display normal brain stem reflexes. By March 27, examinations showed no brain activity, and Isaac was declared dead.

A.

Explanations of Isaac's Injuries

{¶8} After following Isaac to UNMH, Vargas was taken to a police station and questioned. Vargas initially told police that Isaac had been with her and that he had fallen off a couch and hit his head. She maintained this story for roughly six hours before eventually telling the police that Isaac had been with Defendant and Portillo. Defendant and Portillo were then brought in and questioned separately by Detectives Michael Carrasco and Eli Lucero.

{¶9} Defendant initially told the detectives that the last time he had seen Isaac was Sunday, March 22 but eventually agreed that he had seen Isaac the morning of March 25. Defendant explained to Detective Carrasco that Isaac had fallen off a bed and hit an end table. He claimed that Isaac lost consciousness and regained it five minutes later, but then said that Isaac was only unconscious for thirty seconds. Defendant told Detective Lucero that Isaac hit his head hard and that, when Defendant picked Isaac up to put him on the bed, he was dazed and his eyes rolled back. Defendant also told the detectives that he performed CPR on Isaac but later said that he decided not to perform CPR because he heard Isaac breathing. Defendant explained that he then called Vargas to tell her Isaac had fallen and to see what she wanted him to do. We note that Portillo stated in her interview with Detective Lucero that she shook Isaac for ten to fifteen minutes after the fall to try and wake him up.

{¶10} Defendant also testified at trial and gave the following account of the events leading up to Isaac's death. Isaac was staying with Defendant and Portillo on the night of March 24, and when Defendant went to bed at 2 a.m., Isaac was sleeping in a child's bed in the living room. Defendant claimed he was then awakened by a crash, got up, and found Isaac between the nightstand and Defendant's bed. Isaac seemed "dazed" and "confused," and Defendant was concerned about Isaac's reaction to the fall. Defendant stated that Portillo thought it would be a good idea to splash water on Isaac to keep him awake, so Defendant and Portillo took Isaac to the bathroom. Defendant left Isaac with Portillo and started preparing to go back to bed. When Portillo came out of the bathroom with Isaac, Defendant thought he should call Vargas and let her know that Isaac had fallen. Defendant recalled that he was "freaked out" and that Vargas told him to calm down and bring Isaac to her. Defendant then placed Isaac in a car seat and drove to the place where he and Vargas had agreed to meet, at which point Isaac "had fallen back asleep" and was snoring. Defendant then gave Isaac to Vargas, "[s]he gave him a little shake, . . . he opened his eyes," and Defendant went home.

B.

Medical Testimony

{¶11} At trial, several medical experts testified regarding Isaac's injuries. Dr. Shalon Nienow, qualified as an expert in general pediatrics, examined Isaac on the morning of March 25. She testified that Isaac had multiple bruises in several locations around his head. Dr. Heather Jarrell, qualified as an expert in forensic neuropathology, general forensic pathology, and blunt head trauma, supervised Isaac's autopsy on March 30. Dr. Jarrell testified that Isaac had twenty-seven points of bleeding underneath his scalp. Dr. Jon Hallstrom, qualified as an expert in diagnostic neuroradiology, reviewed a CT scan and an MRI of Isaac, both taken on the morning of March 25. Dr. Hallstrom testified that Isaac had multiple subdural...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP