Garza baby murder trial postponed awaiting DCS records

Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Aaron Adrian Garza, 28, shown here in a September 2020 booking photo, is charged with murder in the first degree regarding the November 2019 death of his 11-month-old son, Aaron Jordan “AJ” Garza. 

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – The trial of a father for the murder of his infant child has been postponed to allow the defense to have access to Department of Child Safety records. 

Aaron Adrian Garza, 28, of Solomon, is charged with murder in the first degree, child abuse, and aggravated assault regarding the November 2019 death of his 11-month-old son, Aaron Jordan “AJ” Garza.  

On Tuesday, Garza had a pretrial conference adjudicated by Graham County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Travis W. Ragland. Graham County Chief Deputy County Attorney C. Allan Perkins is prosecuting the case for the state and Garza is represented by former prosecutor now defense attorney Donielle I. Wright, of Tucson.

While Wright said she would like to schedule a settlement conference – a meeting usually presided by an outside third-party judge to mediate plea agreements – but would not do so until she has reviewed records from the Department of Child Services. 

“I am going through all the discovery, but I am missing – most significantly – the DCS records,” Wright told Judge Ragland. “I know they’ve been trying to get those. I don’t have them and they’re important to me in my evaluation.”

For its part, the Graham County Attorney’s Office replied it had been forthcoming with the defense’s record requests, but DCS was an outside agency and they were all at the whim of that particular department responding. 

“There were items that she requested that I did not have,” Perkins told Judge Ragland. “I’ve asked law enforcement to get those, but there are still a couple of things that she wants that we have not yet transmitted and I don’t even know if they exist. But we’re working on that.” 

Perkins told Judge Ragland that he would work toward getting all the records the defense requires. 

“I will make a renewed effort to get them, your honor,” Perkins said. “Law enforcement records are easy – I’m supposed to be in control and if I don’t get them it’s my fault. DCS records are different. They are an independent government agency. I can request them; I can demand them; I can subpoena them, but I have to depend – to some extent – on the goodwill of a separate and independent government agency. And so far, our efforts have not been fruitful.”  

Judge Ragland then set the next pretrial conference for April 12 at 8:30 a.m. to allow Wright time to obtain the DCS records. 

“It’s a difficult case,” Perkins said. “I know it’s been hanging around a while – a long time before it was even charged. But it’s an important enough case that I think it’s important we take the time to get it right.”     

Image Courtesy GoFundMe: Aaron Jordan Garza, 11 months, was declared brain dead on Nov. 18. His father, Aaron Adrian Garza, 28, is charged with his murder.

The charges against Garza stem from an investigation that began in the late evening hours of Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, when Graham County Dispatch received a phone call from a residence on S. Cheyenne Drive reporting an infant was not breathing but was gasping for air and possibly choking on a chip. The reporting party later advised that the infant stopped gasping entirely at 11:32 p.m. 

Aaron Jordan “AJ” Garza was transported to Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center shortly before midnight, where ER staff noticed that he showed signs of bruising and had head trauma, which ended up later being listed as a skull fracture.  

AJ was then flown to Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, where he was kept on life support but was later declared brain dead at 5:55 a.m., on Nov. 18, 2019. He was then kept on life support until Nov. 20, 2019, so his body could be used for organ donation.

According to an autopsy from the Pima County Office of Medical Examiner, the cause of death was blunt force trauma/homicide from an 8.5-centimeter fracture to the back o his head and that AJ had hemorrhaging that went into his spinal cord as well as a retinal hemorrhage in his eyes. 

The Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) opened a case regarding the incident and placed AJ’s 22-month-old sister in a foster home on Nov. 16, 2019, and began a dependency case for her.

Garza was initially arrested on Nov. 27, 2019, and was booked into the Graham County Adult Detention Facility for manslaughter and child abuse after the Graham County Sheriff’s Office reviewed autopsy results from the Pima County Office of Medical Examiner and interviewed him. Garza – who had the two children because their mother who does not live with Garza had dropped them off due to having work – allegedly said the child had fallen off a couch the previous day but wasn’t aware why he had issues breathing that day. He then said his daughter had been giving AJ Pringles potato chips, which caused him to choke. Garza also claimed that AJ had frequently hit his head on things at the child’s mother’s residence and that he had frequently climbed on chairs and fallen.

The night of the incident, a doctor at MGRMC advised the child had suffered a skull fracture to the back of his head. The child also had a large bruise on his face. Garza explained that he had struck AJ to wake him after he choked on the chip, according to a police report. Garza also explained that AJ had fallen off a couch and struck his head on a table, which likely caused the skull fracture in his opinion.

Aaron Adrian Garza is shown here with his son, Aaron Jordan Garza, less than a week before his death from blunt force trauma to his head.

Garza then said the same day his son fell he was carrying him through a doorway when he accidentally hit the back of AJ’s head on the corner of the wall. However, according to the doctor who performed the autopsy, the manner in which AJs injury occurred did not fit Garza’s explanations and even if they did the extreme injury would have immediately been realized by the parent, which Garza allegedly advised he didn’t notice his son acting any differently after bumping his head.  

On Dec. 2, 2019, the Graham County Attorney’s Office filed a complaint against Garza and charged him with two counts of child abuse – recklessly causing physical injury, and another count of child abuse – intentionally/knowingly to cause physical injury. However, those charges did not stem from the manslaughter allegation but from a previous injury that resulted in the baby breaking his leg.

DCS reportedly previously investigated the family when the now-deceased AJ was just two months old after he was taken to the hospital with a fractured leg that the family reported had happened when Garza tripped while carrying him and fell on top of the infant. The Graham County Attorney’s Office investigated that case and has brought forth the three child abuse charges on it while it continues to investigate the homicide case.

In that incident, Garza originally said AJ had fallen out of his bouncer then amended it to say he tripped while carrying him and fell on him, which resulted in a spiral fracture of the infant’s leg. According to Safford Police reports, Garza said the baby began to scream after he fell on him so he put him in the bouncer and went back into his room. Roughly 30 minutes later while the baby was getting his diaper changed, Garza and the baby’s mother noticed AJ still had pain in his leg so they took him to the hospital where it was discovered the leg was broken.

The three counts of child abuse filed on Dec. 2, 2019, were later dismissed by the prosecutor in 2020, and Garza’s current charges – including murder in the first degree – were filed July 13, 2021.