By Jeff Lehr
A judge sentenced Eddie Salazar to life in prison Monday in the death of the infant son who bore his name, although the baby’s grandmother suggested that the father’s own conscience may provide the most fitting form of punishment.
“I never thought my daughter and my grandchildren were living with a murderer,” Adela Guzman told the court during victim-impact statements at the father’s sentencing hearing in Jasper County Circuit Court in Joplin.
Salazar, 31, was convicted by a jury in March of second-degree murder in the death of 8-month-old Eddie Salazar Jr. on Feb. 4, 2010, at their home in Carthage.
Guzman told the court that she did not know how to begin to express “the sadness and emptiness” she has in her heart over the loss of her grandson.
“He was just a baby,” she said. “Eddie did not give him the chance to even say the word ‘Mama.’”
She said that as a consequence, the father has no right to be free any longer.
“Whatever punishment you give him is not sufficient,” Guzman told Circuit Judge Gayle Crane.
Guzman said the best or most fitting punishment may be come from Salazar’s own conscience, which should serve to remind him every day for the rest of his life that he was the killer of his own son.
Although Salazar did appear to shed a tear at one point in the hearing, the defendant did not show much emotion as his son’s mother and grandmother read victim-impact statements to the court in Spanish that were translated into English by an interpreter.
Yadira Aguilar, the mother of the boy, said the death of her baby changed the lives of all the members of her family. She said her baby “did not deserve to die that way.” She said his father “did not have the right to rip my baby from my arms, and I want him to pay for what he did.”
She was at work the night the child was killed inside their home at 227 Mound St. in Carthage. The defendant was taking care of the baby and his 2-year-old stepbrother, Aguilar’s child from another relationship.
“I left my babies with their dad,” she said. “I thought that they were in good hands. But I was wrong.”
She said she still cannot understand why Salazar did what he did to their son, who was “defenseless.” She expressed further dismay with how he could then take the child’s body and throw him in Spring River.
“Every night I ask myself the same question: Why did he do it?” Aguilar said.
According to testimony at the trial, the baby died of blunt force trauma to the head.
Salazar’s public defender, Larry Maples, called two witnesses on his client’s behalf at the hearing: his sister, Maria Salazar, and a male friend since high school. They told the court that Salazar had been a good father to both the boys.
“If the baby needed a diaper change, he was there,” the sister testified. “If the baby needed a bottle, he was there.”
Before the testimony of any witnesses, Maples presented motions for the acquittal of his client or, in the alternative, a new trial. He argued that references made by the prosecutors during jury selection and the trial to the defendant not testifying were cause for a mistrial, and that references to the defendant’s prior criminal record made by investigators in videotaped interviews played at the trial prejudiced jurors against his client. The judge overruled the motions for acquittal or a new trial.
A conviction for second-degree murder carries from 10 to 30 years, or up to life, in prison in Missouri. Maples argued at the hearing for a sentence of 20 to 25 years, while the prosecutor’s office sought a life term.
NEAR THE END of his sentencing hearing Monday, Eddie Salazar expressed dissatisfaction with the counsel he had received from public defender Larry Maples, but he failed to convince the judge that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel.
SALAZAR HAD COMPLAINED to the judge in a letter in November of last year about several matters concerning police conduct in the case.