SALT LAKE CITY — A man accused of murdering his roommate's baby in 1988 has pleaded guilty to reduced charges of child abuse.
Louis Duran, 57, pleaded guilty to two counts of child abuse, third-degree felonies punishable by up to five years in prison. He was originally charged in May 2014 — more than 25 years after 15-month-old Vanessa Nieto was found dead in her crib — with second-degree murder, a first-degree felony, according to 1988 statutes.
A jury trial for Duran had been scheduled to begin next month.
According to court documents, Duran admitted to sucking on the baby's cheeks, leaving a bruise, and biting her on the arm.
On the day Vanessa died, Duran was supposed to be watching the baby and other children, but said he instead "was heavily under the influence of illegal drugs and slept most of the day," court documents indicate. During that time, Vanessa sustained multiple bruises and injuries to her head, Duran said.
In exchange for Duran's plea, prosecutors agreed to remain silent about an incarceration recommendation during a sentencing hearing, currently scheduled for Jan. 10. The baby's mother, however, is not bound by the agreement, the plea form notes.
During a preliminary hearing in September 2014, Dawn Nieto, Vanessa's mother, testified she had noticed the bruises on her daughter's face and thought she was acting ill after being in Duran's care. The woman said she put the girl down for a nap, and when she went to check on her, discovered the baby was stiff and her lips were blue.
"I just remember grabbing her. She wasn't breathing," Nieto testified during the hearing. "I started screaming, 'What happened? What happened?'"
In response, Duran, kept saying, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," Nieto testified.
Nieto unsuccessfully attempted to perform CPR on her daughter, and the 15-month-old was later pronounced dead by paramedics.
An autopsy was performed the next day, which found bruises from near the time of death and from several days previous. Technology at the time did not yield DNA evidence useful to the case.Comment on this story
When the case was reopened, doctors at Primary Children's Hospital and the medical examiner's office reviewed old documents and photographs, determining the infant was "a victim of ongoing child abuse" over the last month of her life, charges state.
Duran, who was 28 when the baby died, told investigators in new interviews that the baby "was a fussy child who was sick a lot," according to charging documents. He then admitted to biting the infant but "otherwise said he couldn't tell the officers what happened that day."