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COA affirms father’s convictions stemming from daughter’s injuries

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The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected a St. Joseph County man’s claims that the trial court abused its discretion regarding the admission and exclusion of certain evidence at his jury trial for charges related to injuries to his infant daughter.

In Valentin Escobedo v. State of Indiana, 71A03-1202-CR-60, Valentin Escobedo was charged with murder, Class A felony battery and Class D felony neglect of a dependent after his two-year-old daughter was admitted to the hospital with significant injuries that left her brain dead in December 2008. M.E. had a history of sustaining injuries while in the care of her father dating back to December 2006. She had been removed from her parents’ home on several occasions but returned to their care.

When harvesting M.E.’s organs for donation, doctors discovered other injuries to her organs, ribs and bones. The autopsy ruled her death a homicide.

The state wanted to introduce evidence of injuries M.E. sustained in 2007 as it had originally filed charges based on injuries sustained in 2008, but the trial court rejected the state’s motion to amend. That evidence could be admitted if Escobedo’s witnesses opened the door to it. The trial court also allowed a defense witness, Dr. Peter Stephens, to testify on a limited basis regarding the injuries M.E. sustained to her liver and pancreas.

Escobedo was convicted of the neglect and battery charges and sentenced to 53 years. On appeal, he argued the trial court abused its discretion by excluding Stephens’ testimony regarding his opinion that M.E. suffered from a metabolic bone disease.

“Given the factors in Vasquez (v. State, 868 N.E.2d 473, 476 (Ind. 2007)), and our review of the record before us and the specific facts of this case, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing Dr. Stephens to testify while limiting his testimony,” Judge Rudy Pyle III wrote. “Here, the trial court weighed the nature of Dr. Stephens’s proposed testimony – which was medical and technical in nature and included topics about which the medical community was in disagreement – with the timing of the filing of the notice – which did not allow the State sufficient time to refute that medical testimony by conducting additional medical testing or by obtaining additional experts to testify – along with the fact that any issue regarding M.E.’s bones had been known and available for a minimum of one and one-half years since (wife) Kristina’s trial.”

Escobedo also claimed that the admission of rebuttal testimony by the state regarding injuries M.E. suffered in 2007 was inadmissible 404(b) evidence. While he was testifying, Escobedo mentioned the injuries in relation to M.E.’s prior removal from the home and denied he was responsible for her injuries.

“Here, Escobedo’s testimony that he was ‘done wrong’ left the jury with a false impression that M.E. was wrongfully removed from his home by DCS. Thus, his testimony opened the door to the State’s introduction of evidence to rebut this false impression. Because Escobedo opened the door with his testimony, Evidence Rule 404(b) did not bar admission of evidence of relating to M.E.’s injuries in 2007 that led to her removal by DCS,” Pyle wrote.

The judges also found that Escobedo’s sentence, for which he received the maximum on both counts, is not inappropriate



 

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