In a case reminiscent of the Casey Anthony trial in Florida, Rockland County Judge William K. Nelson has ruled that 42-year-old Michael Aviles is guilty of manslaughter in the beating death of his 5-month-old daughter Michelle one year ago next Monday, but acquitted him and the child’s mother Lissette Capellan of murder charges, claiming there simply wasn’t enough evidence to link a murder to either of them.
The judge ruled this way in spite of the fact that only the mother and father were in a tiny 20×20 apartment with Michelle, and she was ultimately found to have cracked ribs, a crushed skull, an injured anus, and according to the defendant’s own story, was not taken to the hospital for over three hours after the injuries were discovered. The judge found Aviles’ alibi that he was drunk and oblivious to what happened adequately convincing.
Aviles is looking at three and a half to 15-year sentence for the conviction. While Capellan has received much family support, not many have taken the back of Aviles.
The defense had opted for a non-jury trial in the case, believing the emotions surrounding the death of a baby could negatively impact lay jurors. The prosecution also suffered for the inability to prove exactly how and when some of the injuries took place. It wasn’t clear if the injuries were fresh or had been there for some time.
Photos of the battered baby showing the skull and rib fractures were shown during the course of the trial and in addition to the previous listed injuries, the child also suffered bruising to her feet, hands and fingers, chest and head. The couple told police that they went to bed around 10:00 p.m. on January 15, 2011, and left the other in charge of putting the baby to bed.
When they awoke, they found the baby unresponsive and said they called authorities around 1:00 a.m., something prosecutors believe to be false. The parents eventually got to Nyack Hospital at 4:22 a.m., where hospital staff immediately suspected abuse. Prosecutors surmised that Aviles tortured the infant, eventually beating her to death, while Capellan stood by and let it happen. They couldn’t convince the judge of this story beyond a reasonable doubt, however.
The prosecution also accused the two of spending significant time cleaning up evidence before they got their daughter medical attention. District Attorney Thomas Zugibe has not commented on the case to the press. Special Victims prosecutor Patricia Gunning stated that she was disappointed with the verdict, especially due to the horrible injuries to the child, and deferred further comment to Zugibe.