SOUTH BEND - Exactly what happened to 2-year-old Maya Escobedo on the night of Dec. 2, 2008, might never be known, but a jury determined Monday that the girl's father did not knowingly kill her.
Valentin Escobedo, 25, was acquitted of murder, but found guilty of battery and child neglect following his two-week trial in St. Joseph Superior Court.
Escobedo was accused of inflicting fatal injuries on 2-year-old Maya three years ago. Doctors found a 14-centimeter fracture on her skull and bleeding inside her brain when Escobedo and his wife brought Maya to Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center.
They also found bruises throughout her body, three fractured ribs and damage to her liver and pancreas, according to court documents.
Maya died the following day, and her death was ruled a homicide.
Escobedo's trial was marked by emotional testimony, tense cross-examinations and graphic images of the girl's injuries and body parts.
The state argued the girl was violently abused, while the defense contended her injuries may have been accidental.
Escobedo took the stand last week and, in tears, told the jury he slipped and fell on top of his daughter when he was trying to bathe her in the shower after he found she had vomited on herself.
But the state, represented by chief deputy prosecutor Ken Cotter, argued that such a scenario was not possible. First, her injuries were too severe and widespread, and second, because the dimensions of the tub made his version of events essentially implausible, he said.
Cotter also questioned Escobedo's credibility, noting that he initially told investigators and hospital staff he did not know what happened to Maya.
Defense attorney Jeff Sanford and his assistant, Michael Edwards, contended that Maya's injuries were not necessarily caused by abuse, and called experts who disputed findings from Maya's autopsy. Those experts cast doubt on what the state deemed to be inflicted injuries, saying many of her bruises could have been caused while she was at the hospital receiving rapid, life-saving treatment.
In his closing argument, Sanford told the jury members they did not have enough evidence for a conviction. He said the state was jumping to conclusions and urged them not to make a hasty decision because of the tragic circumstances.
Cotter, meanwhile, recalled the testimony from local neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Yount, who said he believed Maya was brutalized and then thrown against a hard surface, based on his examination of her injuries. He went through each of her injuries, showing the jurors a sketch of Maya with arrows identifying the placement of each bruise or fracture.
"What happened to Maya Escobedo was not an accident," Cotter told the jury. "It was an unfortunate decision by Valentin Escobedo."
Escobedo's wife, 33-year-old Kristina Byers-Escobedo, is serving a 30-year sentence for child neglect, for which she was convicted in January 2010.
To have convicted Escobedo of murder, the jury would have had to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Escobedo knowingly killed Maya, meaning that he was aware of a high probability that he was doing so.
The jury, made up of three men and nine women, deliberated for nearly six hours, reaching a verdict at 5:30 p.m.
The battery conviction, a Class A felony, carries a sentencing range of 20 to 50 years. The child neglect conviction, a Class B felony, carries a sentencing of between six and 20 years.
Escobedo remains in the St. Joseph County Jail, where he is being held without bond, according to jail records.