It took a panel of 12 jurors less than two hours Wednesday to convict Carlos Rivera of first degree murder and aggravated child abuse for the December 2009 death of his girlfriend’s 11-month old son, Christiano Belle-Felix.
The verdict against Rivera, 22, capped off a week-long trial in the case that began when paramedics arrived at the Boca Raton home Rivera shared with his mother, siblings and girlfriend Jessica Belle-Chaves to find Christiano’s bruised, burned and lifeless body.
A sentencing date has not yet been set, but Rivera faces the possibility of life in prison.
Autopsy photos showing the baby boy with a black eye, burned hand and gauze-wrapped arm loomed in front of jurors as medical experts testified that his death came as a result of blunt force trauma he suffered during a time he was left alone in the couple’s room with Rivera.
“He was a grown man who beat up an 11-month-old baby,” assistant state attorney Cheryl Caracuzzo told jurors before they began deliberating Wednesday.
Rivera’s lawyers Mark and Carla Lowry, tried unsuccessfully to convince jurors that Christiano’s mother could have been the one responsible for the baby’s death. But jurors rejected the claims of a defense medical expert who said Christiano’s death could have come from earlier injuries.
Belle-Chaves testified during the trial that she’d lived in virtual captivity for weeks with Rivera, who wouldn’t allow her to touch or hold her son in the final days of his life. On the day before he died, Belle-Chaves said, she left the baby in his play pen in Rivera’s room with a bottle of chocolate milk.
In closing arguments in the case, Carla Lowry pointed out that Belle-Chaves showed little emotion throughout the two-day ordeal that ended with her taking her son off life support a day before his first birthday. Specifically, she said, Belle-Chaves failed to tell doctors about a fall Christiano had several days earlier.
“If Jessica is lying the entire time to the doctors who are trying to save her son’s life, what wouldn’t she lie about?” Lowry asked.
Victor Felix, Christiano’s father, was speechless about the verdict on the way out of court. The 23-year-old walked away silently alongside his parents, a tattoo bearing his son’s face and name barely peeking out from the bottom of his right shirt sleeve. Christiano, Felix’s parents said, was his only child.
Felix’s family, who traveled from California to attend the trial, described Rivera as a “monster”. They said they plan to address him when he is sentenced, but on Wednesday said they were just happy with the jury’s verdict.
“We got justice today, thank God,” Felix’s mother, Christiano’s grandmother Cynthia Sahagan said.