An Indio couple accused in the death of their infant son must stand trial on murder and other felony charges, according to a judge’s new ruling.
Leonardo Daniel Alvarado Fernandez, 34, and Zue Urias, 27, were arrested in January 2020 after police responded to a report they had brought their dead son Marco into an Indio hospital. He was two days away from turning 3 months old when he died.
Following a preliminary hearing that spanned five days at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dean Benjamini ruled Tuesday that prosecutors presented sufficient evidence for both defendants to stand trial on charges of murder and assault on a child under 8 years old resulting in death,
Fernandez was additionally held to answer on one count of torture and two counts of willful cruelty to a child, though Benjamini ruled insufficient evidence was presented to hold Fernandez on a special circumstance allegation of inflicting torture, which made him eligible for capital punishment if convicted.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office previously announced it intended to seek the death penalty for Fernandez. It was unclear whether prosecutors planned to re-file the special circumstance allegation.
Benjamini scheduled a post-preliminary hearing arraignment for June 14. Fernandez remains in custody without bail, while Urias is being held on $2 million bail.
Police were sent to John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Indio about 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 16, 2020, on a report that two parents had brought in their dead child, who had suffered traumatic injuries, according to the Indio Police Department.
Fernandez and Urias were arrested on suspicion of murder later that day.
Indio Police Department Detective Justino Perez testified that both Fernandez and Urias initially told him that the boy fell during a hike, although both later admitted to lying.
Perez testified that Urias said her boyfriend — Fernandez — killed the infant, and that she witnessed him shake him twice because he wouldn’t stop crying sometime before he was taken to the hospital.
Indio Police Department Officer Mark Robles said a doctor reported the child was brought in “cold to the touch.” The doctor said the infant appeared to have been dead about a day.
Deputy District Attorney Shea Strand pointed out the baby suffered multiple skull fractures, brain bleeding and 18 rib fractures, along with bruising over several parts of his body, and that it was unlikely the shaking alone accounted for all his injuries.
Strand also pointed out that Urias failed to render aid to her son, if she did indeed witness her boyfriend abuse the boy. Urias allegedly admitted to detectives she did nothing to stop it, court papers say.
Flores allegedly said that her boyfriend began abusing the boy in late December 2019, more than two weeks before he died, Perez testified.
Flores said a social worker reported that a “general neglect” investigation was underway into Flores because she failed to receive prenatal care before giving birth to Marco. Flores told police she didn’t realize she was pregnant until several months into the pregnancy.
Once Marco was born in October 2019, Fernandez allegedly accused his girlfriend of cheating on him, citing Marco’s paler skin color compared to his siblings, Perez testified.
Fernandez, in a separate interview, allegedly admitted to shaking his son, Perez said.
The couple were allegedly recorded by police saying the infant’s death was “God’s will,” and that after they posted bail, they planned to flee to their native Mexico, Indio Police Department Detective Kelly Hawkins wrote in a bail increase declaration.
The same document says the child died due to blunt force trauma and physical abuse.
The couple’s three other children were placed in the custody of Riverside County Child Protective Services after they brought Marco into the hospital, according to police.
Neither defendant has any documented felony convictions in Riverside County.