By Paul Daquilante • Staff Writer • 

McMinnville toddler died of blunt force trauma

Aayden Cantu died of blunt force head trauma while 13-year-old Alfredo Valeriano Jr. was babysitting the 16-month-old and other children on Oct. 3, 2011, state Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Clifford Nelson testified Wednesday, during the teen’s trial on one count of criminally negligent homicide.

Nelson said he classified the death as a homicide because events leading up to the fatal head injury correlated to findings of the autopsy he conducted the following day at the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Clackamas.

“He was struck in the head, became dazed and wobbly, leaned over on a couch (futon) and then became unresponsive,” said Nelson, who defined homicide as a death resulting from the direct action of another person.

The trial continued into its third day with Nelson’s testimony for the state. Wednesday’s proceedings also featured a recording of McMinnville police detective Toby Carver’s first interview with Valeriano at the Willamette Valley Medical Center, where Aayden was pronounced dead.

Aayden 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 hospital.

At the behest of the state, the interview was played for Judge Ronald Stone, who is hearing the case without a jury. The state began sharing a second interview, conducted by Carver in conjunction with a state Department of Human Services worker, but it was still in progress when the trial was recessed for the day. 

The incident occurred at 1355 N.W. Second St., No. 21, the McMinnville residence where Valeriano lived with his stepfather, Felinon Garcia-Reyes, his biological mother, Asucena Ruiz-Larita, and two young siblings.

A friend, Roberto Cantu, who now lives in Dayton, had moved in a few months earlier with his three children. No adults were present at the time.

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.

Nelson said there were no signs to indicate Aayden sustained any external injuries. All he detected, he said, were some small scratches, one on the shoulder and one near the left ear.

The brain and spinal cord were examined by a neuropathologist. Nelson said the neuropathologist did not find anything unexpected.

Nelson said there was a pool of blood, known as a hematoma, collected on top of Aayden’s head. He described it as a swelling with a mushy feeling to the touch.

He said Aayden had suffered multiple skull fractures. He said he associated them with either a single strike or multiple strikes to the head, in all likelihood delivered by a human hand — either a palm or the bottom of a fist.

He said there was no history of Aayden being dropped on his head or having his head slammed into an object.

Nelson said the blow or blows were delivered with great force. He said the injury was probably sustained hours before Aayden was taken to McMinnville Immediate Health Care by his father.

Previously, there was testimony to indicate that Aayden would bang his head against a wall when he became upset, and that he had once crawled under a table, stood up and hit his head on the underside of the table.

Nelson wasn’t willing to connect those incidents to the fatal head injury. “This was not an injury that occurred one or two or three weeks earlier, not even a day earlier,” he said.

As part of Nelson’s testimony, he explained he has a great interest in unexplained child deaths.

He said he has performed about 3,500 autopsies and about 1,100 external exams decedents. He said he has performed autopsies on about 500 children under the age of 3.

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