Babysitting boyfriend ADRIAN LOPEZ was found not guilty in the death of his girlfriend's 19-month-old son--despite the fact that the boyfriend was alone with the boy when the injuries occurred, the boyfriend's conflicting accounts as to what happened, and injuries that were not consistent with an accident at home (fractured skull, a hand-shaped bruise across the child's face). Even the Dallas press is amazed.
After not-guilty verdict, dead boy's silence haunts abuse case
12:00 AM CDT on Friday, July 3, 2009
Being only 19 months old and, more significantly, being dead, Irvin Hernandez could not take the witness stand to tell what happened to him November before last.
All jurors had to work with was the undisputed fact that the little boy was alone with his mother's 20-year-old boyfriend when he was fatally injured.
They had clinical descriptions of a dead baby with a violently traumatized head: fractured skull, bleeding in his brain, retinal hemorrhaging and a bruise in the shape of a human handprint across his face.
They had police testimony that the boyfriend, Adrian Lopez, gave conflicting stories about what happened to Irvin.
At one point, Lopez told detectives the toddler fell down the stairs. Later, he changed his story to say he and the child accidentally "collided," causing Irvin to bump his head against the wall.
The jury had doctors tell them neither of these scenarios could be true.
This isn't an injury a child gets from falling down or bumping into a wall, they testified. This is the kind of violent impact you see in a car wreck or, say, when an adult man slams a little baby in the head with all the strength he can muster.
That's what the jury had, and it apparently was not enough. They let Adrian Lopez walk, acquitted of capital murder, free to enjoy the rest of his life as he sees fit.
I can't tell you what was in the jurors' heads. After the trial ended Tuesday, they declined to talk to our reporter; one of them said petulantly, "We had a long afternoon."
Exhausted as they were from six hours of deliberations, they did communicate to lawyers after the trial that the prosecution just didn't do enough to prove the boy's death wasn't an accident.
One reportedly could not understand why there was no courtroom re-enactment of his fatal injury.
"How can you re-create this? Were they supposed to bring a baby in and kill him?" asked Beverly Levy, director of Dallas Court-Appointed Special Advocates and one of the most determined partisans for forgotten kids this city has.
"This was horrific," said Dallas police Sgt. Brenda Nichols, who oversees the child-abuse squad. She was angry, disheartened. "The medical evidence spoke for itself. There is no way it was an accident."
This was not pouty, sore-loser rhetoric. Adrian Lopez's acquittal left the police, prosecutors and medical experts incredulous. All the elements of a sadly familiar, straightforward child-abuse killing were there, they said, yet the jury refused to connect the dots.
So what does it take?
Nichols has a theory, one I have heard before from other police officers and trial lawyers.
Increasingly, she said, jurors have been convinced by television shows that they know how trials are supposed to work.
They want a smoking-gun forensic bombshell, a dramatic denouement that hits the courtroom like a thunderclap. Who knows, maybe they want a live confessional meltdown, a la Perry Mason.
"The public is watching these CSI stories on TV, and they think we're supposed to perform this kind of thing in every case," Nichols said, sounding a little hopeless. "That's not real. That's television."
Like so much about life, of course, real trials are not as exciting as television. Juries are asked to sit through a lot of dry testimony. They're often asked to reach a logical conclusion based solely on circumstantial evidence.
I'm not saying a guilty verdict in this case would have meant "justice" for Irvin Hernandez. "Justice" would have been getting to live the rest of his life instead of having his head smashed in before he was old enough to go to school, ride a bike, read a book.
But it might have been some faint, secondhand semblance of justice for the rest of us.