SOUTH BEND — Calling his crimes “the worst of the worst,” St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Jane Woodward Miller sentenced a local father to 53 years in prison today for fatally beating his young daughter in 2008.
Valentin Escobedo, 25, was convicted by a jury in November of inflicting fatal injuries on his 2½-year-old daughter, Maya, and neglecting her in the year before her death.
The jury acquitted Escobedo on the charge of murder, deciding he did not knowingly kill the girl.
The judge gave him the maximum sentence allowed under law — 50 years for battery, a
Class A felony, and three years for neglect, a Class D felony.
“She was so young, and she was so vulnerable,” the judge said as she explained how she arrived at the sentence. “And she was totally reliant on you for care and affection. ... She could not call out for help against you. She had to live in your world, without any means of escape.”
Escobedo continues to maintain his innocence.
During his two-week trial, he testified he accidentally fell on top of Maya while he was bathing her on Dec. 2, 2008, causing catastrophic injuries, including a 14-centimeter skull fracture. But when initially questioned by doctors, police and his wife, he said he did not know what happened.
The judge said Escobedo’s initial dishonesty was a poor reflection of his character, and the abuse represented a fundamental violation of trust.
“You were her father,” the judge said. “No one has a greater responsibility to act in the interest of another person than a parent to a child, a father to a daughter.”
Escobedo’s trial included several days of medical expert testimony. The state’s experts stated that the girl’s injuries — three rib fractures, a skull fracture, brain swelling, facial injuries and widespread bruising — were the result of abuse. But the defense countered with witnesses who offered other explanations — that the girl may have had a medical condition, that hospital’s life-saving treatments may have caused bruising and that Escobedo’s version of events was indeed plausible.
The judge mentioned the childhood milestones Maya will never experience.
“Maya never got the opportunity to go to preschool,” the judge said. “Maya never got the opportunity to sing in the Christmas recital. Maya never got the opportunity to kick a soccer ball, or dance ballet. ... and I think that makes (these crimes) among the worst of the worst.”
The girl’s maternal grandmother, Gloria Miller, wept quietly as she listened to the judge.
Earlier, Gloria had taken the stand and asked that the judge sentence Escobedo to prison “forever.”
She brought in photographs of a smiling, happy Maya — who was placed in Gloria and her husband’s care for six months in 2007 by the Department of Child Services, she said. When Gloria first received Maya, she was fragile — with a broken clavicle, she said.
But in time, the little girl got her strength and her spirit back. And when Gloria returned Maya to the Escobedos six months later, she was happy and healthy, Gloria said. She said that Escobedo had the family “fooled,” and they never saw a violent side of him.
Maya’s mother and Gloria’s daughter, Kristina Byers-Escobedo, is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence for neglect.
Jeff Sanford, Escobedo’s defense attorney, asked that the judge impose a sentence of between 20 and 30 years.
But the judge said the facts and circumstances of the crime made it one of the worst possible. She referenced a book she read several years ago on child abuse, paraphrasing the author:
“The sad irony of child abuse is that all too often a child who cannot speak in life, in death with their body is able to tell us what they couldn't tell in life," Miller said. "And Maya's body certainly did that."
Escobedo testified at the hearing, telling the court he missed his daughter.
“That’s was my daughter, my treasure,” he said.
The judge noted that Escobedo does not have a criminal history, but said she would not consider his clean record as a mitigating factor for his sentence because, she said, he is also an illegal immigrant.
Escobedo told the judge he intends to appeal his conviction, and intends to retain Sanford as private counsel.
Staff writer Mary Kate Malone: