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The Madera Tribune

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Babysitter acquitted in shaken baby case

December 19, 2016

A Madera woman has been found not guilty of child endangerment after she was accused of shaking an infant in her care four years ago.


At the Madera County Superior Court, attorneys on both sides made their final statements on Wednesday to the 12 jurors who would decide the fate of Natividad Reyes, 38, who was charged with child endangerment, after she reportedly shook 4-month-old Christopher Rios-Gonzalez in 2012, causing him severe brain damage. The child was left partially blind, and can only speak in two or three-word sentences.


“This is a very sad case,” said Supervising Deputy District Attorney Todd Spangler. “The evidence doesn’t show that Ms. Reyes intended to hurt Christopher, but she did.”


In his closing statement, defense attorney Eric Castellon attempted to create a reasonable doubt with the jury, arguing that the Madera Police Department’s questioning of Reyes was an interrogation instead of an interview, and argued that the cause of the child’s brain damage was not from shaking, but an infection. The defense pointed to white blood cells found in a subdural tap on the child, after Dr. Phillip Hyden said there were none. 


Meanwhile, the prosecution dismissed the testimony of Dr. Steven Gabaeff, who was called in by the defense.


“Dr. Gabaeff had an agenda,” Spangler said. “He never bothered to look at the baby.” 


Castellon also worked to discredit the prosecution’s witness, Hyden, a pediatrician with Valley Children’s Hospital who specializes in child abuse. Hyden, Castellon argued, was unable to give an objective determination because of his specialty.


“If all you have is a hammer, then you’re ever going to see are nails,” Castellon told the jury. “And that’s Dr. Hyden — all he has is a hammer.”


Later that afternoon, the jury came back, determining that there was not enough evidence to prove Reyes guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt.


According to Spangler, however, while Reyes was found not guilty, it does not make her innocent.


“Nobody said she had an evil intent,” Spangler said in his rebuttal. “But she did it.”


According to Madera County District Attorney David A. Linn, the amount of time that passed between the incident and the trial may have played a part in the verdict. “This is an example of what happens when you have to do a case that is years old,” Linn said.


The case had previously been dismissed and refiled, but Linn has stated that his office will not request a new trial. 


“Although I’m not happy with the result, I certainly will accept it,” Linn said. “I can’t question the jury in any way. I wouldn’t, either. That’s what makes our system work.”

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