YAKIMA, Wash. — A Sunnyside man was sentenced Wednesday to 6½ years in prison for the death of a 2-year-old boy left in his care.
Juan Balverde Lopez, now 21, was 18 when he was accused of fatally injuring Benjamin Miron while baby-sitting the boy and two older siblings the night of Aug. 24, 2010. Their mother, Balverde’s then-girlfriend, was in the hospital for gallstones.
Balverde was convicted of second-degree manslaughter after jurors in Yakima County Superior Court rejected charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter.
The total sentence of 79 months imposed by Judge Ruth Reukauf included the maximum standard sentence for second-degree manslaughter of 27 months, plus aggravating factors that allowed Reukauf to tack on extra time not to exceed 10 years. The aggravating factors, as found by the jury, were abuse of trust and the child’s vulnerability.
Reukauf, who presided over the trial last month, said it was clear from testimony that Benjamin’s death was not intentional and that she believed Balverde truly regretted what happened.
Evidence at trial suggested Balverde struck the boy in the abdomen at least twice in frustration when he wouldn’t go to sleep, then failed to seek medical help when the boy began complaining of stomach pain.
The judge called the case a tragic example of “children attempting to raise children,” noting Balverde was only 18 at the time and trying to be a father to his girlfriend’s three children as well as two of his own from a previous relationship.
“You dropped the ball — badly,” she told the defendant. “And because of that, this young man, 2 years old, is no longer alive.”
However, she declined to follow the prosecution’s recommendation for an 8½-year sentence, based on Balverde’s lack of criminal history. Balverde’s lawyers asked for a sentence of four years.
• Chris Bristol can be reached at 509-577-7748 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ChrisJBristol.