It was moments before 5:30 p.m. Wednesday when Vito Asaro buried his face in his hands and burst into tears in District Judge Emmit Tayloe’s courtroom.
Asaro had just heard the verdict in his felony child abuse trial. For the first time in over two years, he felt vindicated. He was found not guilty by a jury of his peers.
“Thank God, thank God,” he said. “I’m going home. I’m going back to New York.”
It had been a tense afternoon after the jury went out to determine the verdict. The jury left the courtroom at 3:04 p.m. tasked with Asaro’s fate.
After hugging his mother following the reading of the decision, Asaro said he felt like he’s free of “two years of mental imprisonment.”
“It’s like I have a future again, I have a life again,” Asaro said. “I get to see my daughter again; I have my life back.”
“Thinking of all the pain I went through for two years, it eats you up,” he said.
Asaro had been accused of causing injuries to a 14-month-old boy left in his care Nov. 18, 2017. It’s a crime, he said, he would never imagine being accused of undertaking.
Asaro told authorities his then-girlfriend’s child, a boy named Aiden he was babysitting, had passed out and fallen head first onto the floor. But when the boy was taken to the OU Children’s Hospital, doctors said his injuries were caused by abuse, as a simple fall would not have had enough force to lead to an injury that severe.
During the day’s closing arguments, Asaro’s defender, Dustin Phillips, of Oklahoma City, alluded to abuse suffered outside his client’s care and questioned the boy’s mother Mahaylee Fixico’s care for her toddler who was just trying to learn how to walk. The prosecution questioned that defense.
In her closing, Assistant District Attorney Jill Oliver used video of Asaro’s interview with Lawton Police Detective Johnathon Santiago in the hours after Aiden was first taken to Comanche County Memorial Hospital before being flown to OU Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City for care.
Oliver showed parts of the interview where Asaro ran down the day’s events while babysitting Aiden. He said the boy woke him between 6 and 6:30 a.m. and he fixed him a small omelet the boy declined to eat.
Asaro said he was keeping the boy so they could bond. However, Oliver pointed out that Asaro said he sent the boy to his room to play with his toys for the rest of the morning. He said the boy was fine and around noon, he fixed lunch. He said the boy threw his apple slices to the ground, but he did drink juice.
Shortly after lunch, Asaro said Aiden was falling asleep on his feet and that around 2 p.m., he fell to the ground, scraping his head on the molding of a doorway. Asaro told Santiago he tapped on the boy to make sure he was awake and alert and when he responded well, he put him to bed where he remained until the evening.
Oliver showed where Asaro began to change time estimates of when activities took place. Each time Santiago would question the discrepancies, Asaro would add information, she said.
“Every time he tells the story there’s something new,” she said.
Asaro said that he was making dinner between 7:30 and 8 p.m. when Aiden began crying. Asaro said he brought him into the kitchen and set him on his feet and the boy plopped down onto his bottom. He picked him up to set him up again and said the boy’s eyes rolled back, his head spun and he fell to the ground with a boom.
Fearing the boy’s breathing was blocked, Asaro said he checked to make sure there wasn’t a blockage and then grabbed an ice pack to stick under the boy’s armpit to jolt him awake — a trick he said he learned in the Army. He then put the cold pack in Aiden’s diaper but it didn’t alert him.
Asaro said he ran out into the yard and began calling out for someone to call 911 while he began CPR on the boy. Aiden’s breathing revived by the time responders arrived. He said he didn’t see this coming, that Aiden hadn’t shown signs of problems or of being seizure prone. He did admit throughout the interview to several times of “smacking” the boy to make sure he was responsive.
“All he had was a little rash and he was a little tired,” he said. “Then he was just drained. It scared the hell out of me.”
Earlier in the trial, Dr. Ryan Brown from OU Children’s testified to the injuries the boy had suffered to his torso, ears, forehead and neck. He testified that he’d treated “thousands” of children in Aiden’s age range but when asked how many had injuries like the boy, he answered “three or four.”
“His neck was torn, his brain was bleeding,” Oliver reminded the jurors.
Asaro had told investigators that he’d taken Aiden’s temperature that morning and it was “a little high” at 100.2 degrees. A check closer to noon showed his temperature to be 97.5 degrees, he told investigators. When he got to Comanche County Memorial Hospital, the boy’s temperature had dropped to 86.1 degrees. Oliver cited Dr. Brown’s testimony.
“His temperature is dropping,” she said. “What we do know is that head trauma will cause the temperature of a body to go down.”
An expert witness for the defense argued against Brown’s testimony and said Aiden showed signs of chronic subdural hematoma.
For his injuries, Aiden spent eight weeks in a neck brace in OU Children’s Hospital. He still suffers effects from the damage and is in speech therapy.
Oliver asked the jury to find Asaro guilty and for him to receive a 20 year prison sentence. In the end, the jury found he wasn’t culpable of the alleged crimes.
Information about Asaro’s time in the Army was not allowed into trial evidence. In January 2014, he was court martialed and found guilty of cocaine use, abusive sexual contact and assault consummated by battery.
Written by Scott Rains: firstname.lastname@example.org.