The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed a New Bedford man’s child abuse convictions following a jury trial in which it was proven the defendant viciously beat a small child with a belt. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Garcia.
The victim was a four-year-old boy whose mother had a years-long addiction to pills. At some point, the mother became friends with the defendant, who took a role in raising the victim. Over time, the victim and his mother spent less time with their family and more time with the defendant. The victim’s family members and day care providers began noticing the victim had bruises and other injuries on his face and what appeared to be burn marks on other parts of his body. The victim’s demeanor began to change and his day care teachers noticed he was clingy. The defendant started dropping the victim off at day care and made statements to the teachers that could be perceived as threats toward the victim. At some point, the victim told his grandmother that his butt hurt, and he was taken to the doctor. Ultimately he was admitted to Children’s Hospital for six days to treat multiple ulcers in his anal area. The victim’s grandmother became so concerned that she went to court and obtained guardianship of the victim. When the victim was turned over, he was crying and unable to walk properly. He said his butt hurt and he had bruises on his back, legs, arms, and face. He was transported back to Children’s Hospital and determined to have significant damage to his anus, which required surgery. Doctors concluded the victim was struck with a flexible implement, which was the cause of some of the bruising. The victim said the defendant had beaten him with a belt. The victim’s surgeon testified at trial that the anal injury was the result of external blunt force trauma. The police later searched the defendant’s apartment and found a belt containing a blood stain that was connected by DNA to the victim. The victim was seven years old by the time the defendant’s case went to trial and he testified he was the subject of severe physical abuse by the defendant. A jury convicted the defendant of several crimes, including assault and battery on a child causing substantial bodily injury. The Appeals Court affirmed.
The defendant argued on appeal that there was insufficient evidence for the jury to have concluded his striking the victim with a belt could have resulted in the victim’s anal injuries. The Court disagreed. The victim testified at the trial that the defendant had caused the anal wound by beating him with a belt. His doctor offered an expert opinion that the injury was caused by blunt force trauma and the victim’s blood was found on a belt recovered from the defendant’s apartment. While the defendant hired a medical expert who testified that a blow to the victim’s buttocks could not have caused the anal injuries, the Court pointed out that the jurors were not required to accept such testimony. Accordingly, the verdict was supported by the evidence and was proper.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled a parent may use reasonable physical force to discipline a child. The beating at issue in this case was obviously not reasonable.