Sun, Sept. 15

Man sentenced to 17 years in death of infant son
Garcia-Soto still maintains innocence in Alford Plea

Julio Cesar Garcia-Soto

Julio Cesar Garcia-Soto

CAMP VERDE – An 11-year-old murder case finally reached its conclusion Tuesday at the Yavapai County Superior Court in Camp Verde. Julio Cesar Garcia-Soto was given a flat sentence of 17 years – with credited 11 years already served for second-degree murder.

What is an Alford Plea?

Also known as a “best-interests plea,” an Alford plea registers a formal claim neither of guilt nor innocence toward charges brought against a defendant in criminal court. Like a nolo contendere plea, an Alford plea accepts the full process of criminal trial because the defendant -- typically, only with the court’s permission --  accepts all the ramifications of a guilty verdict (i.e. punishment) without first attesting to having committed the crime. The name, Alford plea, is taken from North Carolina v. Alford 400 U.S. 25.

Information provided by Cornell Law School

Presiding Judge Christopher Kottke allowed Garcia-Soto to hug his sister before he was transported to the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Maria Paz, grandmother and representative of the victim was present in the courtroom. She requested and was granted a no-contact order.

Garcia-Soto still maintains his innocence, according to the pre-sentence memorandum.

“In short, Cesar has no faith that he can get a fair trial,” the memorandum states. “With that in mind, he chose to enter an Alford plea, to limit his further incarceration and protect himself from a sentence of death or life in prison. He has always maintained his innocence, and did so again at the change of plea proceeding when pleading guilty by way of North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S.25 (1970).”

In February 2008, Garcia-Soto was arrested on a first-degree murder charge and two counts of child abuse in the death of his 3-month-old son.

Three weeks before his arrest, Sedona firefighters were called to an apartment in the Village of Oak Creek. Three-month-old Edwin Alejandro Garcia was not breathing, according to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office. The mother, then 21-year-old Gladis Yamileth Rodriguez Paz, was at work when police were called. Garcia-Soto was the only adult in the apartment.

“As described in police reports, on Jan. 22, 2008. Cesar put his infant son in a bassinet. He put a towel under the baby’s neck to prop up a water bottle … there was a pillow used as a mattress and loose blanket in the bassinet,” according to the memorandum. “When he looked in on the baby about a half hour later, he saw that he had turned over and was face down in the bassinet. He heard the baby gasping for air and rushed to pick him up. He found the towel in the baby’s mouth and his eyes were rolling back into his head.”

According to the memorandum, Garcia-Soto tried administering CPR and when he couldn’t get the baby to breathe, he ran to his neighbors for help. That was when the 911 call was made.

The baby later died at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. The hospital reported “highly suspicious injuries” including a broken arm, several broken ribs, fractured pelvis and a fractured skull with associated brain trauma.

A final autopsy report listed the cause of death as “homicidal violence including acute and chronic trauma (battered infant.)”

Garcia-Soto was arrested for providing false information and for having two felony warrants issued by Maricopa County on suspicion of assault and kidnapping.

Child Protective Services were also called to the couple’s home that night and took two of their children. CPS reported that the two other children showed signs of “chronic neglect.” Rodriguez-Paz pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse in 2008 and was sentenced to a year in prison.

Since the initial arrest, Garcia-Soto’s case has dragged on for more than a decade. He was portrayed by local law enforcement as well as the media as an undocumented immigrant accused of beating his 90-day-old infant son.

But the defense painted a different picture, according to the pre-sentence memorandum.

The memorandum states that nationally recognized pathologist Cyril Wecht, M.D., J.D. determined that to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, the cause of death for the baby was, “while not specifically identified by medical examination or at autopsy, it is either from natural causes or from accidental asphyxia.”

It was also reported that there was no bruising found on the infants’ body, according to the memorandum.

“Despite all this exonerating evidence, Cesar was faced with going to trial in Yavapai County as an undocumented alien accused of beating his 90-day-old infant son to death,” according to the memorandum. “He has spent more than 10 years in jail awaiting trial, was denied the right to a Daubert hearing [where he would have been afforded a chance to challenge the State experts’ medical opinions], he was denied the right to have a grand jury re-hear the case after the medical examiner changed the cause of death from blunt force trauma to the head [which is what the grand jury was told], to homicidal violence.”

During the sentencing, Judge Kottke said he would not lecture Garcia-Soto on his son’s death.

“There’s nothing I can say to bring your child back,” he said. “Only you know what happened and it’s up to you to reconcile.”

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