LAWRENCE — A 4-month-old boy was suffocated at the hands of his father and not shaken to death as police initially suspected, a prosecutor said at Alexis Medina's murder arraignment yesterday.
Prosecutor Kate MacDougall said while Medina, 23, admitted to shaking his son, Alexis Medina Jr., the cause of death appears to be suffocation when his father "intentionally" shoved the baby's face into a pillow last Tuesday morning. The baby also had 11 healing rib fractures, she said.
The boy was born Sept. 8. He died Wednesday at Tufts Medical Center in Boston after lingering in a "brain dead" state for hours, MacDougall said.
Medina, of 4 Inman St., #19, was held without bail yesterday after his arraignment on murder charges in Lawrence District Court.
He was previously convicted of child abuse and jailed for 18 months for breaking an older daughter's skull when she was 6 months old. In September 2008, Medina was ordered to take anger management and parenting classes, which he attended, and was sentenced to probation through September 2011, according to court testimony and papers.
Medina told police on the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 28, while "Junior" was facedown in his crib, he pushed down on the infant's back to quiet him so he could get more sleep. The baby's mother, Jocelyn DeJesus, had left earlier for work and Medina said he used this tactic in the past to quiet the baby, police said.
Some two to three hours later, Medina's mother, who had arrived at the apartment to baby-sit, found Alex "not breathing" and called her daughter, who dialed 911.
"As soon as she touched the child, she realized something was terribly wrong," MacDougall said.
Medina's actions earlier that morning essentially "left his own mother to discover her dead grandson," MacDougall said.
Medina also admitted to police he "roughhoused and wrestled" with the baby, squeezed him so hard he might have broken the infant's ribs, and had recently yanked on the boy's arm until he heard a snap in his shoulder, MacDougall said.
He told a state police detective "he had once bitten the baby's foot — while playing rough — and, in doing so, had left a mark," according to a report by Trooper Joshua Ulrich.
But Medina's attorney, Raymond Buso of Salem, said the boy couldn't have died of suffocation because rescuers were able to revive him Tuesday morning. The boy was taken to Lawrence General Hospital and then airlifted by helicopter to Tufts Medical Center.
Buso accused the prosecution of using "alternating theories" of shaken baby syndrome, the violent shaking of an infant resulting in irreparable brain damage, and now suffocation to falsely charge his client. He predicted the case would ultimately be dismissed.
"It's medically impossible that he suffocated," Buso said. "The government's timeline is flawed."
While, annually, thousands of children do die from child abuse, there are many other cases of "misdiagnosed child abuse," where loving parents are unfairly blamed for metabolic problems, allergies, drugs and diseases that claim the lives of their children, Buso said.
Medina, he said, has been falsely accused of killing his namesake and already convicted in media blogs that are calling for everything from his hanging to castration.
"How would you feel if your 4-month-old child is dead and you've been falsely accused?" said Buso, commenting on his client's demeanor in an interview outside the courthouse.
"He absolutely denies he did anything to cause any injury," he said. "I believe him."
Also, when interviewed by local and state police detectives about his treatment of his baby, Medina had received a shot of Ativan, a anti-anxiety tranquilizer, which was prescribed by an emergency room doctor due to his client's "grief stricken" state, Buso said.
"At that point, he didn't know if his child was alive or dead," Buso said.
Just last week, the night before the baby was rushed to the hospital, Medina and DeJesus had a "significant argument" and stayed up until 2 a.m. fighting over their "clashing parenting styles," MacDougall said.
In court yesterday, MacDougall also said family members "had become increasingly concerned about how (Medina) behaves towards Alex."
His parents had recently taken the baby for a weeklong "timeout" and returned the baby to Medina and his mother on Christmas Eve — "four days before he was killed," she said.
DeJesus and Medina have another child in common, a 20-month-old daughter named Nayeli, who, in the wake of her brother's death, is now in the custody of the Department of Children and Families, a spokeswoman said yesterday. He reportedly has a total of four children.
Medina is due back in court on Feb. 4 for a probable cause hearing.