Authorities have testified that Mark Paniagua first told them that the fatal injuries suffered by his 2-year-old nephew came after the toddler had taken a fall in the backyard and hit his head.
But in a police video played for Travis County district court jurors Wednesday, the 25-year-old Paniagua tearfully repeated, “I am sorry. I am so sorry,” in telling an investigator that he had lost his temper and thrown Carlos De La Rosa into a mattress, possibly slamming the boy against the wall.
The interview with a homicide detective, taped just after the November 2010 incident, provides the jury the only first-hand account so far of the events leading up to the boy’s death, as Paniagua has not taken the stand in his capital murder trial.
The defense presented no witnesses in the trial. Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Thursday morning.
Paniagua, who has prior arrests for drug possession, criminal mischief and assault, also is charged with felony injury to a child and murder. If convicted, he could receive a sentence of up to life in prison without parole.
Austin police have said that Paniagua was baby-siting six children on a Sunday afternoon at his East Austin apartment when Carlos was hurt.
On Wednesday, Paniagua looked down, a hand on his forehead as his interview by the investigator was played for jurors.
In the video, Paniagua remained silent for much of the interview but eventually told detective Jeff Greenwalt that he grew angry because Carlos kept begging to go outside. He thrust the child onto a cheap mattress in a dark room, not knowing exactly where he fell and shut the door behind him, Paniagua told the investigator. The boy cried for at least 10 minutes, Paniagua added.
Paniagua said he later picked the boy up, took him outside and roughly sat him down on the concrete. But the child looked dizzy and fell back, Paniagua told the detective, and that was the first time he realized something was wrong.
When the officer asked if Paniagua struck Carlos or violently shook him, Paniagua adamantly said he had not.
“Did you punch him in the stomach?” Greenwalt asked.
“No. I just picked him up and threw him, like I said,” Paniagua said, getting up and demonstrating. When Greenwalt told him Carlos had died, the video showed Paniagua cried and buried his head in his arms on the table.
On the stand, Greenwalt said he believed Paniagua hadn’t told him the full version of what occurred that night.
Paniagua’s lawyer, Brad Urrutia, has argued that Carlos’ mother hurt him before he arrived at Paniagua’s home. Carlos’ mother had broken the child’s clavicle, as well as that of his sister, the attorney has said. In his cross-examination of Greenwalt, Urrutia asked if the detective knew the child had lice and lived in poor and dirty conditions with his mother.
“It was disconcerting to see how the child lived, but my investigation focused on how the child died,” Greenwalt responded.
Pointing to graphic photographs from Carlos’ autopsy, a medical examiner told jurors that the boy had severe head trauma and liver damage that could have been generated by violent shaking or another type of impact.
Carlos had a broken clavicle from a prior incident weeks before, possibly sustained in a car crash, but the boy died from much more recent blunt force injuries, the examiner said.