WOODSTOCK – A Prince William County man accused of endangering his infant son, who died of asphyxiation, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a lesser charge.
Bryan Jared Reyes-Rivera, 27, of Dumfries, appeared in Shenandoah County Circuit Court to face trial on one felony count each of child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury and child endangerment. Reyes-Rivera also faced one unrelated charge of violating a protective order.
But Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda Wiseley conceded that the court could find that had the case gone to trial the evidence might not link the child’s death to the defendant.
Reyes-Rivera walked into the courtroom with the aid of a walker and sat with his defense counsel. The defendant’s mother and other family members appeared in the audience during the proceedings.
An agreement reached between Wiseley and Reyes-Rivera’s lawyer Michael Araj called for the defendant to plead guilty under Alford v. North Carolina to an amended indictment reducing one count of child endangerment to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a class 1 misdemeanor. A defendant who enters an “Alford plea” maintains his innocence but does not wish to risk the court finding him guilty.
Neither the prosecutor nor the defense provided specific reasons as to why parties chose contributing to the delinquency of a minor as an appropriate charge to which the defendant would plead guilty.
The agreement called for the court to sentence Reyes-Rivera to the maximum punishment for the misdemeanor charge of 12 months in jail. The judge acknowledged that the defendant has already served 12 months awaiting trial.
Indictments handed up by a grand jury on March 14, 2018, charged Reyes-Rivera with committing child endangerment and child abuse resulting in serious injury on Jan. 20-21, 2017. Reyes-Rivera also stood charged with a misdemeanor violation of a protective order Dec. 2, 2017. Under terms of the agreement, the court dismissed the defendant’s charges of child abuse resulting in injury and violation of a protective order.
Wiseley offered a synopsis of the evidence she planned to present had the case gone to trial. Law enforcement officers responded to a residence on Valley Vista Drive in Woodstock at approximately 12:30 a.m. Jan. 21, 2017 for a report of a child not breathing. Emergency responders took the defendant’s 10-month-old son to Shenandoah Memorial Hospital where medical workers pronounced the child dead, Wiseley said.
A state medical examiner conducted an autopsy on the child and determined the infant had died from asphyxiation, Wiseley said.
The defendant had been watching the child while the mother was at work on Jan. 20, 2017, and into the early hours of the next day, the prosecutor said. Reyes-Rivera told law enforcement officers he had checked on the child 20 minutes before discovering that the infant was not breathing. However, the prosecution’s evidence would have shown that an expert determined the child died approximately two hours before the defendant discovered the infant not breathing and thus could not have been checked on 20 minutes prior as the defendant claimed, Wiseley said. The expert based the determination on the extent of rigor setting in and other factors, she added.
Araj said he agreed that Wiseley presented a synopsis of the prosecution’s evidence.
Judge Kevin Black then asked Wiseley as to why the prosecution came to the agreement. Wiseley said the chief medical examiner ruled the manner of the child’s death as undetermined. Examples of the manner of death are accidental, suicide or homicide.
Wiseley went on to say that “the evidence could be seen by the court that he just didn’t check on the child, not that he did anything to the child to make it deceased.
“There have been ongoing ... competency issues,” Wiseley said. “I know that (psychologist David) Rawls is here, has found (the defendant) incompetent, so I know counsel would be dealing a lot with that.
“It was just a question about what the commonwealth could prove about the felony child endangerment,” Wiseley added.
Reyes-Rivera has spent more than a year in Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail, Wiseley noted.
The prosecutor added that the defendant went on a “hunger strike” while in jail and, as a result, suffered permanent injury to the point he can no longer walk without the aid of a walker.
Wiseley went on to say that, in reference to the child’s death, “sometimes these things happen.”
Black accepted the agreement and the defendant’s plea, saying he determined the evidence presented in court sufficient to reach a finding of guilt.
Reyes-Rivera read to the judge a written statement, beginning with his reasons for entering into the plea agreement. The judge allowed the defendant to remain seated at the table to read the statement.
Reyes-Rivera maintained his innocence and stated he would have shown he is not guilty of his original charges. But he pleaded guilty to the amended, lesser charge “because it would be much easier for the commonwealth to prove elements” of the misdemeanor. The defendant went on to state that he entered the plea agreement because he also did not want to take the risk that the prosecutor would move to dismiss the charges and he “would have to start this all over again after being held up for over a year because of this broken part of our criminal justice system.”
“It’s been a year since – actually, I have another daughter,” Reyes-Rivera said, trying to hold back tears. “I haven’t even seen her ... since she was born. I missed her first steps, first words, and I’m just trying to get this over with and move on with my life.
“I’m tired of being reminded every day that my son died,” he went on to state. “I think I already know that, so I just want to go on with my life.”