A 22-year-old Haltom City baby sitter was sentenced to 12 years in prison Monday in the death of a 7-month-old baby in her care in April 2013.
The Tarrant County jury convicted Araceli Guzman late Friday of reckless injury to a child, a crime for which the maximum punishment is 20 years. Prosecutors had asked the jury to convict her of murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Guzman must serve half of her sentence before she becomes eligible for parole. She will get credit for the nearly one year she has already served in jail, according to authorities.
“I’m not displeased by the results,” said Lisa Hoobler, Guzman’s attorney. “I started out trying a felony murder. I accept the jury’s verdict. I think their verdict means that they did not think she meant to intentionally harm anyone.”
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Prosecutors argued that Guzman was the only person who could have fatally injured Juliana Payan, the 7-month-old she was baby sitting on April 22, 2013.
Juliana died May 18, 2013, at a hospice, from “abusive head injury with complications,” according to the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office.
When she was dropped off at Guzman’s apartment in the 5700 block of North Beach Street, the baby seemed fine, the infant’s mother, Karissa Meling, testified Wednesday.
About 2 p.m., Guzman called Meling to say that Juliana was having trouble breathing and she needed to come and get her, Meling testified.
Tarrant County prosecutors Leticia Martinez and Kelly Meador noted that Guzman was caring for at least four other children in her apartment. But the other children were kept away from the baby, Meador said.
“What is Juliana’s life worth?” Meador asked during her closing arguments in state District Judge Wayne Salvant’s court. “What are you going to tell the next baby sitter in Tarrant County who takes a life?”
Hoobler argued that her client deserved probation. Guzman had no criminal history and has two children, ages 3 and 8, who will now have to grow up without her, Hoobler said.
“It does no good to assess this woman more time,” Hoobler said in closing arguments. “What she’s asking you to do is to go back to that room and consider giving her another chance. The likelihood of this crime being repeated are slim and none.”
Meador argued for the maximum prison sentence, saying probation would be akin to a slap on the wrist.
“There must be an accounting for what happened to Juliana,” Meador said. “Send her to prison for a long time. That’s what Juliana deserves. That’s what justice demands.”
During a videotaped jailhouse interview that was played for the jury last week, Guzman said Juliana’s head hit the dresser as Guzman leaned over, reaching for an exercise bar in her room. The investigators challenged her account, saying Juliana’s injuries were too severe to have resulted from that one incident.
Later during the interview, Guzman told detectives that she shook the baby while she was trying to get her to stop crying and that Juliana’s head might have hit the dresser harder than she initially indicated. Guzman also said Juliana’s head might have hit her knee while she was trying to comfort her by rocking her.
Doctors at Cook Children’s Medical Center performed emergency surgery on Juliana, who was bleeding inside her skull and had retinal hemorrhaging and a broken leg, according to a news release from the Tarrant County district attorney’s office.
“Juliana’s mother trusted Araceli Guzman that morning with one of her most precious gifts,” Meador said. “By late afternoon, Juliana was clinging to life. Her injuries left her profoundly brain-damaged, blind and deaf. In the last days of her life, she couldn’t even be comforted by the sound of her mother’s voice.”