SOUTH BEND - A man accused of inflicting fatal injuries on his 2-year-old daughter took the witness stand during his trial in St. Joseph Superior Court Monday morning, denying all allegations against him.
Valentin Escobedo, 25, said he never abused his daughter, Maya. He said on the night of her death, Maya was injured while he tried to bathe her in the shower after he found she had vomited in her crib.
Escobedo’s wife, who had been at a movie that night, returned home shortly after the incident and the couple rushed the girl to the hospital.
Escobedo confessed that he initially lied to his wife, hospital staff and investigators when they asked what happened, fearing that his daughter would be taken from him. Instead he told them that he did not know what happened, according to court documents.
“I was scared,” he said, telling the jury that the Department of Child Services had taken his daughter from the family in the past, accusing the parents of neglect.
Escobedo, testifying as the defense’s first witness on the sixth day of trial, described how he fed Maya and her older brother dinner on the night of Dec. 2, 2008. He said the siblings then played together while watching “Kung Fu Panda” in the family’s South Bend home.
Shortly after he put the children to bed, he said, he heard Maya vomiting in her crib. He went to her bedroom and saw she had vomit on per pajamas and in her bed.
“I asked her if her belly hurt and she shook her head yes,” Escobedo said. “I took the covers off her bed and took her to the shower.”
Escobedo said he started running the water and got in the tub as well. He said when he reached for Maya to put her in the tub, she lost her balance, and when he went to grab her, he lost his balance too.
“I was trying to reach for her,” he said, starting to cry. “But then I fell on top of her. I tried to stop myself, but fell.”
He said he put his clothes on, wrapped her in a blanket, and put her diaper on.
“I was talking to her but she didn’t respond,” he said.
When doctors examined Maya, first at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center and then in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Memorial Hospital, they found she was suffering from a skull fracture, brain swelling and subdural hematoma. She also had three rib fractures, scrapes on her face and chin, and bruising throughout her body.
According to court documents, doctors who treated Maya determined that the injuries were caused by severe blunt-force trauma - consistent with a high-speed automobile accident, a fall from an extreme height or from an injury inflicted by someone older and stronger than she.
But Dr. Ronald Uscinski, a clinical neurosurgeon from Washington, D.C., offered a different opinion on Monday.
Uscinski testified that it was possible Maya’s head injury could have been caused by her falling in the bathroom and striking her head, consistent with Escobedo’s version of events.
Previous doctors, called by the prosecution last week, testified that Maya’s injuries were indicative of abuse.
Uscinski disputed that fact, saying it was not possible to know precisely what caused an injury in most circumstances.
“If a baby like this falls and fractures her skull, or a baby is pushed down, you’re going to get the same injury,” he said.