Garza pleads guilty in death of 11-month-old son

Contributed File Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Aaron Garza booking picture circa 2020.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – It’s taken roughly three times the length Aaron Jordan “AJ” Garza spent alive on Earth to bring justice for his death, but on Tuesday, Aaron Adrian Garza, 29, appeared in Graham County Superior Court and plead guilty to an amended charge of manslaughter, a Class-2 felony.

Garza was previously charged on Feb. 11, 2021, with murder in the first degree regarding the death of his 11-month-old son, Aaron Jordan “AJ” Garza in November 2019.

Graham County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Travis L. Ragland accepted the guilty plea and set sentencing for Jan. 3, 2023. According to the plea agreement, Garza will be sentenced to no less than 10 years and no more than 15 years in prison.

The manslaughter charge stemmed 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.  

Image Courtesy GoFundMe: Aaron Jordan Garza, 11 months, was declared brain dead on Nov. 18, 2019.

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 then 22-month-old sister in a foster home on Nov. 16, 2019, and began a dependency case for her. That child has since been returned to her mother.

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 didn’t 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.

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.