Criminal defense lawyers see all kinds of allegations and crimes during their careers. Among the most heartbreaking are crimes against children. Abuse against children, particularly at the hands of a caregiver, incites public outrage and is punished harshly in the criminal justice system.
An Oklahoma County judge last week exemplified that outrage when she sentenced Herman Marzelo Vail Bailon, 34, to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the 2008 beating death of his girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter. Bailon pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and asked for a 30-year term at his sentencing, but the judge ruled that the severity of the child's injuries warranted a harsher sentence.
Judge Tammy Bass-LeSure said that a life sentence alone would have made Bailon eligible for parole when he was 70 years old; she felt that the attack was so violent that Bailon should never be released, and therefore sentenced him to life without parole.
Bailon's defense attorney requested that the judge consider Bailon's poverty-stricken upbringing in war-torn Guatemala in her decision, but she was unmoved.
At the time of the incident, Bailon was watching his girlfriend's two young children, aged 2 and 3, and his own infant son at an Oklahoma City motel while his girlfriend was at work. While she claimed to be working two jobs, Bailon's lawyer alleges that there is evidence that she was actually seeing another man when she was supposedly at the second job.
Frustrated at being left to care for the children and suspicious of his girlfriend's neglect, Bailon admits he took out his anger on the children. Bailon admitted to police that when the 2-year-old refused to eat lunch, he repeatedly slapped her before throwing her to the ground and kicking and stomping her. The girl died from head injuries sustained in the attack.
Bailon said that, at the time of the abuse, he was in a rage and wasn't thinking; however, he admits that he abused the child at other times prior to her death. The girl's mother, Elizabeth Nicole Guerrero, 29, is serving a 20-year sentence for permitting child abuse after admitting that she should not have left her children in Bailon's care, knowing he was a threat to them.
Prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers deal with horrifying crimes on a daily basis, but none is more gut-wrenching than the death of a child at the hands of an abusive caregiver. Both the prosecution and the defense bear the weighty responsibility of fighting to ensure that justice is served.
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