Appeal from Seneca County Common Pleas Court Trial Court No. 11 CR 0291
Jonathan G. Stotzer for Appellant
Derek W. DeVine and Rhonda L. Best for Appellee
(¶1} Defendant-appellant, Christal A. Hinojosa ("Hinojosa"), appeals the September 13, 2012 judgment of the Seneca County Court of Common Pleas journalizing her conviction by a jury for one count of child endangerment resulting in serious physical harm to the child, in violation of R.C. 2919.22(A), (E)(2)(c), and one count of permitting child abuse, in violation of R.C. 2903.15(A), and sentencing her to serve thirty-six months in prison.
(¶2} In December of 2010, Hinojosa had custody of K.M. (born September 2008). K.M.'s father lived in Georgia, where he was employed as a member of the military. On December 17, 2010, Hinojosa and her two minor children, K.M. and A.H. (born April 2010), moved into a home in Fostoria, Ohio, with Hinojosa's boyfriend, Dave Roberts ("Roberts"). Roberts' minor son also lived in the home on a part-time basis. Between December 2010 and February 2011, family members and friends began observing suspicious bruising on K.M.'s body. The following testimony was adduced at trial regarding the nature of these injuries.
(¶3} Kelly Stephens, Hinojosa's aunt, testified that she first noticed something strange with K.M. during Christmas 2010 when she observed him wince in pain as his grandmother picked him up. She saw K.M.'s grandmother lift his shirt to reveal a huge bruise on his lower back. Kelly asked Hinojosa how K.M. received this bruise and she responded that Roberts told her that K.M. fell down the stairs while she was at work.
(¶4} Deb Puffenberger, Hinojosa's grandmother, testified that she first noticed bruising on K.M. in the early part of January 2011 when she saw a large black and blue bruise on K.M.'s tailbone. When she asked Hinojosa about the bruise, Hinojosa responded that Roberts told her that K.M. fell down the stairs while she was at work. Deb testified that Hinojosa and her children lived with her prior to moving in with Roberts and she never noticed K.M. to have strange bruising or trouble with the stairs.
(¶5} April Robbins, a family friend, testified that she has known K.M. since his birth and saw him often. April explained that Hinojosa would let her "have" K.M. and his sister for days or weeks at a time and that Hinojosa would simply contact her every couple days to see how the children were doing. April recalled that after K.M. began living with Roberts, he would cry when she dropped him off at home. April testified that K.M. did not want to be at the home he shared with Roberts.
(¶6} On the stand, April recalled the last time she saw K.M. On January 15, 2011, Hinojosa dropped K.M. off to spend time with April and her family at April's parent's home. April explained that she was not at home at the time, but received a phone call from her parents telling her she needed to come home immediately. April's sister, Ashley, had just given K.M. a bath and noticed extensive bruising all over K.M.'s body. Ashley testified at trial that these bruises were all down K.M.'s back and in "random" places on his body. Ashley stated that she had never seen bruising like this on K.M.
(¶7} April recalled that when she returned home that night Ashley and her father pulled her into the kitchen and lifted up K.M.'s shirt. April testified that she observed bruises all down his back, under his bottom, down his legs and on his upper arms. April stated that some of the bruises were new and some were older. She had never seen bruising like this on K.M. The extensive bruising on K.M. prompted April's father to contact the Fostoria Police Department and take K.M. to the police station.
(¶8} At the police station, Officer Brandon Bell examined K.M. and observed bruising all over his body, including on his face, back, and chest. Officer Bell took several pictures of K.M.'s body, which depicted numerous bruises in various stages of healing. Officer Bell wrote a complaint and contacted the Seneca County Department of Job and Family Services ("SCDJFS"). No arrests were made or charges filed as a result of this incident. The record indicates that SCDJFS conducted an initial investigation but then closed the case, finding any allegations of abuse to be unsubstantiated. K.M. returned home with April and her family from the police station.
(¶9} After the incident, Hinojosa told April that K.M. received the bruises from falling down and rough playing with Roberts' son. However, April recalled that it was not typical of K.M. to play rough and that the bruises, especially the ones on his back, did not seem consistent with falling down. Hinojosa no longer permitted April to have contact with K.M. once she learned that April took K.M. to the police station.
(¶10} On February 15, 2011, Deb Puffenberger, Hinojosa's grandmother, babysat K.M. while Hinojosa ran an errand. At that time, Deb noticed bruising on K.M.'s face. She also recalled that K.M. could barely stand up and appeared to be walking with a limp. After Hinojosa returned, Deb went to the home of her daughter, Kelly Stephens. Kelly testified that she also recalled seeing K.M. walk with a limp during this time. Deb testified that she was very upset about K.M.'s physical state and worried about his safety.
(¶11} Deb contacted the Fostoria Police Department and met with Officer Shilo Frankart to fill out a police report. Kelly was with Deb at the police station and recalled that Deb was so upset and nervous that she could not complete the report. As a result, Deb dictated what she observed to Kelly, who filled out the report. Officer Frankart asked Deb to bring K.M. to the police station so that he could observe and document K.M.'s injuries in a controlled environment. Deb testified that she went to Hinojosa and Roberts' home to retrieve K.M. while Hinojosa was at work. However, Roberts would not let her have K.M. Deb recalled that Roberts told her to leave the residence and slammed the door in her face. Deb then went to Kelly's home and Kelly contacted K.M.'s paternal grandparents.
(¶12} When Deb was unable to bring K.M. to the police station, Officer Frankart then went to Hinojosa and Roberts' home to investigate. Officer Frankart arrived at the home and was greeted by Roberts. Hinojosa was not home during this visit. Officer Frankart advised Roberts of the child abuse allegations and asked to come in. There, he observed three children in the home, K.M., A.H. and Roberts' two-year-old son. Officer Frankart noticed "severe" bruising on K.M's face, neck, and back. Specifically, he recalled seeing approximately twenty bruises on K.M.'s body. He inquired to Roberts about the bruises, who stated that some of the bruises ...