Contributed Photo/Courtesy GCSO: Aaron Adrian Garza, 27, shown here in a September 2020 booking photo, has been 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
GRAHAM COUNTY – Aaron Adrian Garza, 27, has been charged with murder in the first degree regarding the death of his 11-month-old son, Aaron Jordan “AJ” Garza in November 2019.
According to online court records, charges were filed against Garza on Feb. 11 and a warrant was issued. In addition to the murder charge, Garza was also charged with child abuse and aggravated assault.
According to the Graham County Adult Detention Facility, Garza was brought in on his warrant on Monday, Feb. 15. A news release from the Graham County Sheriff’s Office later advised that Garza had self surrendered on his warrant.
The homicide and other recent charges 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. The child is currently still in the custody of the state.
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.
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.
The Gila Herald updated this story with autopsy results and further information from the investigation.