GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A judge listened to tearful testimony Tuesday from the mother of a 4-year-old boy killed in Kent County.
Sonja Hernandez was among those who testified in 63rd District Court Tuesday in the preliminary hearing for Elis Nelson Ortiz-Nieves, who’s charged with murder in the death of Hernandez’s son, Giovanni Mejias. Ortiz is Hernandez’s boyfriend.
“I see my baby laying on the floor,” said a tearful Hernandez, recalling the day her son died.
Ortiz-Nieves pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, first-degree child abuse and being a habitual offender in connection to the June death of Mejias.
Ortiz and his supporters were also in tears during the testimony Tuesday. Convinced of his innocence, they wore ‘Free Nelson Ortiz’ T-shirts, as Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Laura Clifton laid out the case against him.
She first called Kent County Sheriff’s Deputy Jack Wood to the stand, who said he heard kids screaming when he arrived at the mobile home in Gaines Township where Giovanni was unresponsive.
Wood said the boy “didn’t look good” when he showed up, with bruising all over his body. He also encountered Ortiz at the scene.
“He seemed upset with himself, kept saying it was his fault, ‘it’s my fault,’” Wood said.
Giovanni’s mother testified the boy was throwing up the day before he died, but she didn’t take him to the doctor because she didn’t think much of it.
She said she came home on a break and found Giovanni unresponsive.
Hernandez said she saw Giovanni lying on the floor, with Ortiz trying to render aid.
“I see Nelson (Ortiz) trying to help him,” Hernandez said.
Ortiz reportedly told detectives when he found the boy stiff and unresponsive, he kept pouring water into his mouth. He also allegedly told detectives he was jabbing Giovanni in the stomach in an effort to get him to vomit.
Emergency responders were able to revive the boy, but he soon died at the hospital.
A detective testified that Ortiz’s story changed when presented with new information from officers.
The prosecutor also called Dr. David Start to the stand. He performed the autopsy on Giovanni.
The prosecutor showed a diagram with various injuries as noted by Dr. Start, suggesting a pattern of abuse inflicted upon the boy.
“The degree and location and the number of injuries was remarkable,” Dr. Start testified.
He ultimately ruled the death as non-accidental and a homicide, caused by severe blunt force trauma to Giovanni’s abdomen.
“In my opinion, this injury is inflicted with blunt force from an adult individual,” Dr. Start testified.
But it was clear in court – Dr. Start’s opinion will be argued heavily during the upcoming trial.
Police said Ortiz was watching over seven children the day Giovanni died, and his defense attorney suggested it could’ve been the boy’s older brother who delivered the blow that killed him.
Hernandez spoke of how the 10-year-old treated Giovanni in her testimony.
“Sock him, push him, he was just mean to him,” she said.
The defense also suggested that Giovanni could’ve fallen hard on top of something. Hernandez said the kids like to climb on and jump from the roof of the trailer.
Dr. Start said a hard fall or a child causing the injury were unlikely, but not impossible.
And it appears Ortiz has more than just his family on his side. In court, Hernandez wore a shirt with a photo of she and Ortiz on the front – and she and Giovanni on the back. Hernandez claimed Ortiz was great with her kids, testifying that she never witnessed him physically discipline or abuse her children.
Ultimately, the judge ultimately bound the case over, sending Ortiz-Nieves’ case to trial.