A man convicted of fatally beating his girlfriend's 22-month-old baby in Indio nearly a decade ago was sentenced today to 25 years to life in state prison.
An Indio jury deliberated three days last October before finding Esteban Alamo, 34, guilty of second-degree murder and assault on a child resulting in death for the fatal attack on Serik Matthew Nieto, who succumbed
to his injuries on Oct. 9, 2010
This is one of the most difficult cases I've had to hear," said Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony Villalobos Friday, prior to handing down the sentence."This family has been ripped apart, and there's nothing this court can do to mend that family, to put the pieces back together.''
The nearly decade-old case saw upward of a dozen defense attorneys, and multiple jurors excuse themselves during their deliberations.
Angel Perez, the boy's mother, stood in front of the judge, weeping as she held a picture of her son while Deputy District Attorney Josh Hill read an email aloud which she had written to a probation officer.
He never had an opportunity to enter kindergarten, play a sport of interest, participate in extracurricular activities, perform in a school play, attend his sister' games, or even enjoy Disneyland," the email read.My baby was just a baby.''
At the time of the toddler's death, Alamo was on parole and living with Perez, his girlfriend at the time, in Indio, violating a requirement of his parole that he remain in Los Angeles County.
According to prosecutors, he babysat the toddler Oct. 4, 2010, for four to five hours while the mother ran errands. When she returned, she found her son unconscious and struggling to breathe -- and with what the criminal complaint describes as "
white, foamy saliva" on his lip.
The mother took Serik to JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio, but he was soon airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he was pronounced brain-dead and taken off of life support a few days later.
Alamo was arrested Oct. 14, 2010, in the Los Angeles area for violating his parole. It took Riverside County coroner's officials several months to complete an autopsy on the toddler, and charges related to his death were not filed against Alamo until February 2011.
Alamo's prior attorney, Jacob Devane, asked jurors during the trial to consider whether the mother might be responsible for Serik's death and also suggested the toddler could have fallen while playing.
Hill, the prosecutor in the case, countered that during an interview with police, Alamo indicated the child's injuries occurred when the mother was away from home.
According to a declaration in support of an arrest warrant, Alamo told Indio police detectives that he did not like children and would lose his temper fairly quickly, adding, that is why he didn't have any children of his own.
But Alamo also said during the interview that even though he occasionally disciplined his girlfriend's children, he had grown fond of them. "I have nothing to hide,'' Alamo said in a recorded interview with detectives that was played during the trial. "
I know it looks bad, especially for me."
An autopsy revealed that the victim's injuries could not have been caused by a "simple fall from a couch, chair, bed,'' according to court papers.
Following the verdict in October, the victim's aunt on his father's side, Stefanie Nieto, told reporters she and many of her family members believe
Alamo is innocent.
Years after the baby's death, Nieto said she was told by the victim's older sister that Serik tumbled down some stairs.
There is no physical evidence saying this man did it," Nieto told reporters outside the Indio courthouse at the time. Members of the father's side of the family were also in the courtroom Friday, as many of them had been consistently during the entire court process, to advocate for Alamo's innocence.
"Esteban Alamo -- in my heart and what the record shows, you are innocent,'' said Serik W. Nieto, the boy's father, "and I request this case be
referred to the grand jury so we can get indictments against the people
responsible for this crime."