July 9, 2014

Mother of dead child testifies at Haltom City sitter’s trial

Mother tells jury that she hired defendant Araceli Guzman to care for her children because she couldn’t afford other kinds of child care.

The mother of a baby whose sitter is on trial in her death testified Wednesday that she had problems getting child care after she started working full time.

Karissa Meling testified that after her hours as a bank teller were increased to 40 hours a week in February 2013, she discovered she could not afford regular child care for her three children.

“It was going to cost $500 a week, and that’s how much I took home from work,” Meling, 25, testified.

Meling indicated that she did not get much child support from her children’s fathers.

Meling said she found Araceli Guzman’s advertisement on Craigslist and went to her apartment in Haltom City to meet her and then agreed to start leaving her children with Guzman.

Guzman, 22, is now on trial on a murder charge in the death of one of Meling’s children — Juliana Payan, a 7-month-old who died on May 18. The Tarrant County medical examiner’s office ruled her death a homicide caused by “abusive head injury with complications.”

When she dropped Juliana off at Guzman’s apartment, which is in the 5700 block of North Beach Street, on April 22, the baby seemed fine, Meling said. But about 2:30 p.m., Meling testified, Guzman called her to say that Juliana was having trouble breathing and she needed to come and get her.

Guzman “was very calm,” Meling said. “I got scared and worried.”

Meling said she left work to get her child, but before she reached the apartment, ambulance paramedics called her cellphone with questions about Juliana’s medical history.

Meling passed Guzman’s apartment and beat the ambulance to Cook Children’s Medical Center.

The baby’s father, Javier Payan, arrived just before Juliana was taken to surgery.

“When Juliana came out of surgery, she was in bed asleep with a bandage on her head,” Meling said. “Her face was swollen. A tube was in her nose and her legs were in braces. She didn’t look like herself.”

Haltom City Detective Tony Miller told the jury that Juliana had a fractured lower leg, and was bleeding inside her skull and behind her eyes. Part of the baby’s brain had to be removed to relieve the pressure inside her skull, Miller said.

“The doctors said it was a wonder that the baby survived this long,” Miller said.

Juliana technically died at one point but was revived. She was later transferred from Cook Children’s to a hospice where she died almost four weeks later, Miller said.

After hearing at the hospital that his daughter had died, Payan drove in a fury to Guzman’s apartment where he encountered officers who were there to question Guzman. He threatened to blow up her apartment, Miller said. Tensions about bomb threats were especially high because a week earlier, on April 15, was the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and injured more than 260.

Police converged on the complex from Fort Worth, Haltom City, Watauga and North Richland Hills, and the Northeast Tarrant County bomb squad was called out. Police in tactical gear surrounded Payan’s sport utility vehicle with weapons drawn.

“We evacuated part of the complex and shut down Beach Street,” Miller said. “We had to get a safe blast zone.”

Payan eventually surrendered, and no note, explosive devices or weapons were found, Miller said. Payan is awaiting trial on a charge of terroristic threat.

Guzman was arrested later that day, Miller said.

“I felt we needed to put her into custody for her own safety,” Miller said. “I found out the next day that Juliana was still alive.”

In a jailhouse interview with Haltom City investigators, which was played for the jury, Guzman said that Juliana’s head hit the dresser as Guzman leaned over, reaching for an exercise bar in her room. The investigators challenged her story, saying that Juliana’s injuries were too severe to have been caused by that one incident.

Testimony in Guzman’s trial is scheduled to continue Thursday in state District Judge Wayne Salvant’s court. Kelly Meador and Letecia Martinez are prosecuting. The defense attorney is Lisa Hoobler.

Related content


Editor's Choice Videos