Man gets 14 years in death of toddler | AspenTimes.com

Man gets 14 years in death of toddler

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A man who pleaded guilty to killing a 19-month-old child was sentenced to 14 years in prison on Monday.

Kelly Edward Garcia, 29, lowered his head and kept his eyes on the floor as he was handcuffed and escorted out of the courtroom. He was arrested in October and charged with child abuse resulting in death. Authorities say he shook Benjamin Andre Garcia, the child of his fiancee, to death. The boy and Kelly Garcia were not related.

The courtroom was filled with family members of both the baby’s mother, Tessa, and Kelly Garcia. Garcia pleaded guilty in March and two days later married Tessa Garcia. The last names are coincidental.

Tessa Garcia wept into her hands while leaving the courtroom just after the sentence, followed out by her husband’s family.

Kelly Garcia initially told police he saw the baby fall out of his crib after a nap. He later said Benjamin was “gurgling” after he hit the floor, so Kelly picked the child up and shook him gently.

“I was trying to save her son,” Kelly Garcia told the judge. “That’s it. I’m very sorry this happened, but I don’t deserve to go to jail because everyone will think I’m a monster.”

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Assistant District Attorney Lawson Wills called forensic medicine expert and Arapahoe County Coroner Michael Dobersen to testify about the condition of the 19-month-old when he performed the autopsy. Dobersen said “severe closed head injury” was the cause of death, meaning an injury to the brain caused without a fractured skull.

He said he would categorize the death as a “variant of shaken baby syndrome,” since the vigorous and violent shaking the baby endured was probably accompanied by a strong impact with a solid object.

“The injury is [comparative to] a fall from 20 to 30 feet up or a high-speed motor vehicle accident,” he said, adding it’s “very unlikely” the injury occurred when the baby fell out of his crib or was shaken gently.

Pitkin County Coroner Steve Ayers also testified that Benjamin Garcia experienced “massive brain swelling” and may have been injured as much as six to eight hours before being brought to the hospital.

Carrington Brown, director of land-side operations at the Aspen Airport, testified that he hired Kelly Garcia for grounds maintenance in September, but he only worked a couple of weeks before telling his employers he had cancer “of the outer scalp.” Brown said he donated three days’ worth of sick time to Garcia for treatment, but later “heard he doesn’t have cancer.”

Tessa Garcia’s aunt, Deborah Watkins, told the court while sobbing why Kelly Garcia should go to prison.

“In my mind and heart, Kelly should be sentenced to life since that is what he took away from us,” she said. “It is my belief that Kelly has been influencing, controlling and manipulating my niece. Kelly must be removed from society.”

Chris Garcia, grandfather of Benjamin Garcia, also spoke to the judge and asked for a prison sentence.

“This is something no family should ever have to endure: the death of a child,” he said. “Look at [Kelly.] He’s empty. There’s no remorse. We want justice, and this shouldn’t be kept silent.”

But Tessa Garcia also came forward and told District Court Judge J.E. DeVilbiss why her husband should not be sent to prison for killing her child. Tessa sat on the side of the courtroom with her husband’s family, and her own family sat across the aisle.

“Kelly has never been aggressive with [Benjamin] or talked to him inappropriately. He always talked to him as if he was his own son,” she said. “I don’t think putting Kelly in jail is going to do any good. It’s not going to bring my son back, and if you put him in jail, you only hurt me more.”

Kelly Garcia held his head in his hands, and his shoulders shook as he listened to his brother ask the judge not to impose a jail sentence.

Wills recommended a the maximum 16-year sentence based on “the level of dishonesty and manipulation in this case” and the “very, very violent event.”

DeVilbiss said Kelly Garcia’s presentence report included a record of 14 contacts with the courts as a juvenile.

“The department of corrections is the appropriate response to the death of a child,” he said. “There is a very good argument for a maximum sentence.”

Pitkin County juvenile investigator Bruce Benjamin said the case was very emotionally charged and one of the most difficult he’s been involved with in 19 years. Wills said the way the court handled the case was to be expected.

“We had a death here. A death is taken very seriously by any and all courts,” Wills said. “We treat it seriously here, also.”