ELYRIA — Luis Lopez has been indicted on murder and other charges for allegedly causing injuries that killed his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter, Aaviana Payne, in September.
Lopez, 25, originally faced a less-serious charge of involuntary manslaughter, which was also included in the indictment as were charges of felonious assault, endangering children and domestic violence.
Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said the Elyria police investigation into Aaviana’s death led to the murder charge, which carries a minimum sentence of 15 years to life in prison if Lopez is convicted.
Aaviana’s mother, Margo Young, took her daughter to EMH Medical Center in Elyria just after midnight on Sept. 11, and the child died a short time later from her injuries. An autopsy determined that she died from blood on her brain caused by blunt head trauma, Elyria police Detective Lisa Dietsche testified during a hearing in Elyria Municipal Court in October.
Will declined to discuss what led to Aaviana’s injuries, but Kenneth Ortner, Lopez’s defense attorney, said he was told by police that they believe the fatal injury was caused when Lopez threw the girl.
But Ortner said he doesn’t believe that’s the case. Lopez told police that he tripped over a pair of shoes at the bottom of the stairs while holding Aaviana on Sept. 10. That led to the toddler hitting her back and head on the floor.
Dietsche testified that Lopez had originally said that Aaviana, who was in an immobilizing cast for a broken ankle and femur, had stayed in bed the entire day. He later revised his story to include the fall on the stairs.
After the fall, Dietsche said Lopez told her, Aaviana was awake but wouldn’t speak or take her sippy cup, so he took her upstairs and put her to bed, where she remained for the rest of the day.
Ortner said his client told police that what happened was an accident.
“It seems to me if he were guilty of anything, it would be not realizing she was injured,” Ortner said. “To say that he purposefully killed her I think is a stretch.”
Ortner said the broken ankle and femur occurred when Aaviana jumped off a bed in July. Police have said they were told that jump had led to the broken ankle but can’t be certain how her femur was broken.
There were also other signs of injuries on Aaviana’s body, including grease burns, which witnesses have told police happened when Lopez was cooking while holding the girl.
She also had injuries inside her mouth, which was bleeding when she arrived at the hospital, that police have said are consistent with a blow to the face.
Lopez has a prior conviction for child endangering for a June 2005 incident in which a 1-year-old girl sustained injuries to her chest, according to police and court records. After pleading guilty to the charge, Lopez was placed on probation for a year and ordered to have no contact with children.
Court records show Lopez was released from probation in March 2010.
Will said although he doesn’t have statistics to show that those convicted of abusing children are likely to repeat the crime, his experience leads him to believe that if it’s happened once, it could happen again.
Lorain County Children Services, which was conducting an investigation into the family when Aaviana died, is reviewing its policies to try to find a way to prevent a future tragedy.
“We’re looking for better ways to screen boyfriends,” Children Services spokeswoman Patti-Jo Burtnett said. “Sometimes we can’t discover who the boyfriend is.”
In the case of Aaviana, Children Services had no idea that Lopez was caring for Aaviana because the family had told investigators that no one but Young and her two children were living in the apartment. Had the agency been aware of that and his past, it would have raised a concern, Burtnett has said previously.
Burtnett said she couldn’t comment on the status of her agency’s investigation into the family’s case.
Lopez remains in the Lorain County Jail, where he has been incarcerated since his October arrest.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.