The man convicted of first-degree injury to a child was sentenced Friday morning to 40 years in prison.
After a little more than an hour of deliberations, a jury determined the Lubbock man accused of choking a six-month-old in 2018 by wedging a pacifier in the child’s throat did so intentionally.
During the third day of the trial on Thursday, 20-year-old Rico Martinez took the stand. His defense claims he tried to save her, but failed to dislodge the pacifier and unintentionally pushed it farther.
Martinez testified to the court that he was the only one at home at the time of the incident, and he put the child in the crib with the pacifier while he was asleep. He woke up when he heard the child crying, Martinez said he tried to get the pacifier out but he couldn’t. He said he called the mother on the phone and told her the baby was choking on the pacifier, and then called 911.
While on the stand, Martinez told the jury he “wasn’t completely honest” with police in his first interview, saying he tried to make the story fit so that “it wouldn’t like they were bad parents.”
Prosecutors in closing arguments recounted the testimony from medical professionals, saying it would be physically impossible for a six-month-old child to get the pacifier in question into her own throat. Prosecutors said Martinez wedged the pacifier so far down the child’s throat, that first responders could not see it to remove it, and it took surgeons cutting the child’s throat to save her life.
The jury determined Martinez, who was 17 at the time, was found guilty of first-degree injury to a child. Punishment will be determined by the jury on Friday.
Assistant District Attorney Jessica Gorman said during opening statements, that jurors heard when Martinez came into the lives of the mother and child, she either didn’t want to or just didn’t recognize there were problems. Gorman said the child went from being a happy baby to being uncomfortable being picked up and held. The child was showing up to daycare with bruises consistent with being squeezed. The jury heard that Martinez had been up drinking and partying all night and he and the child’s mother got into an argument.
Gorman said on August 19, 2018, the mother left to get insurance for her care and the baby was down for a nap, so she left Martinez with the child. The mother said she was gone for about 20 minutes when Martinez called her and said the baby was choking and turning blue. She told him to call 911, Gorman said.
The first firefighter on the scene said they were told it was a choking situation. When he went into the apartment, Martinez was in the living room on his phone and pointed to the bedroom, he said. The baby was on the bed coughing, in major distress, spitting up blood, and changing color. The firefighter said the child was getting a little air but was clearly fighting to breathe. EMS arrived and tried to remove the object as well, but couldn’t. The baby was able to move enough air to stay awake, but they couldn’t remove the object. He testified all he could see was a piece of plastic but didn’t know what it was.
A person with LPD Communications testified about the 911 call. The communications officer testified Martinez said, “My baby just swallowed her f*****g pacifier. She’s spitting up blood. I tried to get it out.” The call was transferred to EMS. Martinez told EMS she swallowed the pacifier and asked if that happens and wants to know how that can happen because of the size. Martinez told EMS he tried to get it out and she was trying to throw it up. The communications officer then said he did not hear a child crying in the background, but could hear Martinez talking, but never hears the child.
Gorman said the baby was transferred to the ambulance and EMTs had to cut her open to find a pacifier lodged in the child’s throat. They were able to move it enough for the baby to get some air. A surgeon was needed to remove the pacifier.
Gorman also said testimony during the trial would show that the baby could not have done this to herself. If it wasn’t for the first responders and medical staff she would have died. She also says Rico was in the hospital waiting room on his phone sharing jokes on Facebook including a video of Tom and Jerry where Jerry is shoving an orange all the way in his mouth. She said his story changed several times, saying he left the child alone because he had to go to the bathroom, then changing it to saying he dropped her and that is how the pacifier went down his throat, but then admits he did it an stormed out.
“An age-appropriate pacifier with a plastic mouth guard is not a choking hazard, imagine how much force it took to force that down her throat,” Gorman said.
Martinez’s defense attorney Daniel Warrick said he believes the baby swallowed the pacifier and Martinez tried to remove it. He continued with Martinez is the one who called the mother and 911, and everyone tried to remove the pacifier. He did not agree Martinez did anything to put the pacifier in the baby’s throat.
“As a 17-year-old, he did everything he could,” Warrick said. He said it would be hard to believe a 17-year-old would have the skills to remove something like that.