McMinnville teen held responsible for conduct in toddler's death
Judge Ronald Stone ruled Friday morning in favor of the prosecution in in the criminally negligent homicide trial of 13-year-old Alfredo Valeriano Jr. of McMinnville.
He was tried in connection with the Oct. 3, 2011 death of 16-month-old Aayden Cantu.
The terms "convicted" and "sentenced" are not used in juvenile cases. The verdict places Valeriano under jurisdiction of the Yamhill County Juvenile Court.
He was placed on 60 months probation and ordered to serve 15 days in the juvenile facility. With credit for time served, he has completed that term. However, he was ordered to serve an additional 30 days.
Valeriano will receive a mental health evaluation, undergo treatment if it is recommended and those reports will be forwarded to his probation officer. He is currently undergoing mental health counseling.
The teen is prohibited from having unsupervised conduct with minors unless approved by his probation officer. He is currently living with his biological father, Alberto Valeriano Sr., and there are no other children in the home.
He was fined $200 and ordered to pay what Stone called "reasonable restitution" in the amount of about $4,500. There is a 60-day window for the state to determine an accurate figure.
Stone waived Valeriano's court-appointed attorney fees which amount to thousands of dollars. Carol Fredrick of McMinnville represented him.
"We demand an explanation when a child dies," Stone said in delivering his decision. "It cries for justice. This was not an act of God but of criminal negligence."
Stone later said, "I have come to the conclusion that he did not intend to hurt Aayden, but I am holding him responsible."
Valeriano made a brief statement but spoke in such a low tone of voice that what he said was barely audible.
"There's a debt that you will never be able to repay," Stone told him. "One way of repaying it is by being a good man."
Stone said one thing that troubled him during the weeklong trial was the fact Valeriano showed no emotion during any of the testimony that was given.
Aayden's father, Roberto Cantu of Dayton, testified Tuesday but did not return to the trial any other day. Deputy District Attorney Lisl Miller explained he did not want to hear any of the evidence by way of testimony that was presented. He did not want to be present for the verdict, according to Miller.
"He did what he had to do (testify), and after that, he felt it was out of his hands," Miller said.
Stone praised the work of both Fredrick and Miller in preparing for the trial and presenting their cases.
See Tuesday's print edition for additional details.
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Alfredo Valeriano Jr. took the witness stand Thursday as his trial on one count of criminally negligent homicide wrapped up its fourth day in Yamhill County Circuit Court. Judge Ronald Stone is hearing the bench trial.
He was the first defense witness called by court-appointed attorney Carol Fredrick after Deputy District Attorney Lisl Miller said the state was ready to rest its case.
Valeriano, 13, was in the seventh grade at Duniway Middle School in McMinnville when he was charged by McMinnville police in connection with the Oct. 3, 2011 death of 16-month-old Aayden Cantu.
Aayden, who sustained multiple skull fractures, was first taken to the McMinnville Immediate Health Care facility on Northeast 19th Street. The staff there called 911 to summon an ambulance that rushed him to the Willamette Valley Medical Center were he was pronounced dead following extensive life-saving measures by the health care and hospital emergency room staffs.
State Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Clifford Nelson conducted an autopsy on Aayden and testified the cause of death was blunt force head trauma and the manner of death was homicide. McMinnville Police Detective Toby Carver, who doubles as a medical examiner for Yamhill County, testified to the same cause and manner of death.
The incident occurred at 1355 N.W. Second St., No. 21, the McMinnville residence where Valeriano lived with his stepfather, Felimon Garcia-Reyes, his biological mother, Asucena Ruiz-Larita, and two young siblings. Garcia, who currently is lodged in jail, and Ruiz both testified for the state.
A friend, Roberto Cantu, who now lives in Dayton, moved in a few months earlier with Garcia and his three children. No adults were present at the time of the incident.
Valeriano had babysat his siblings, as well as Cantu’s children, in the past. On this occasion, Cantu asked the boy to watch some of the children when he went to WinCo for groceries.
Before resting the state's case, Miller called 17 witnesses, in addition to playing an audio only recorded interview Carver conducted with Valeriano and an audio and video recorded interview that Carver and detective Michelle Formway conducted with the teen.
It was during the audio and video interview that Valeriano demonstrated how Aayden and his little sister were squabbling on the living room floor. His sister wanted to hug Aayden, who did not want to be hugged, and that touched off a tussle between the children. Valeriano admitted the squabbling "kind of made me mad." He said he was frustrated.
He said he went over to the two, picked up his sister with his right arm and, with the palm of his left hand, he hit Aayden on top of his head. Valeriano said Aayden stood up, walked over to a corner of the room, stood there for about a minute and then walked over to where a futon was sitting. He leaned over and put his head on the piece of furniture.
That's when Valeriano said he picked Aayden up and laid him on the futon where other children he was watching would soon be resting. Shortly thereafter, he said he heard Aayden making noises, and they were gurgling sounds, based on a demonstration he gave.
Later, Valeriano's stepfather, Garcia, who had come home from work, and Aayden's father, who has returned from the store, decided to seek medical attention for the toddler because he was acting in an unresponsive manner.
Valeriano appeared calm on the witness stand. He never displayed any signs of emotion during questioning from Fredrick or Miller.
He told Fredrick he "kind of felt comfortable" babysitting the kids. However, he would get tired.
Valeriano said he told Aayden and his sister to stop fighting, and that's how the activity that the two were engaged in has been described during the trial. He said he does not think he hit Aayden hard on the top of his head and he did not plan to him hard.
The teen punched a door at home so hard once that it left a gouge in it, and the mark on the door could be seen during the video interview. Valeriano also admitted hitting a wall at home in the past.
"Did you hit Aayden as hard as you hit the door and the wall?" Fredrick asked him. "Maybe," was Valeriano's response.
On cross-examination by Miller, he admitted hitting one of his sisters once before when he thought she was misbehaving.
Valeriano told Miller that he knew someone could get hurt by being hit and he said he knows it isn't right to hit someone else. He said he didn't realize someone could died if they were hit hard enough in the head.
"Isn't it true that you told detective Formway that this (hitting Aayden) was not an accident?" Miller asked him. "I don't remember that." he said.
Miller continued, "What is it today?" He replied that it was an accident.
On re-direct examination by Fredrick, she asked Valeriano if he liked Aayden, and he replied that he did.
Duniway Middle School Assistant Principal Lysha Wasser testified for the defense following the teen. He said he focused largely on language development last year, and helped construct an Individual Education Program for Valeriano. Wasser described him as a "model student," who understands right from wrong and the consequences of his actions.
The defense rested following Wasser's testimony.