WEST JORDAN — She left her newborn son with her boyfriend for about a half-hour on a Sunday evening last year, and a short time later, the child was dead.
Maria Elena Sullivan, 27, testified Thursday that she returned to the basement apartment in West Jordan to find Daniel Kitzmiller making a "weird bicycle motion" with the boy's legs. She calmed the child down, put him in a swing and listened to his chest rise and fall for an hour before the 13-day-old Archer Sullivan made a gagging sound.
"I got up and picked him up, but he stopped breathing," said Sullivan, who has admitted to reduced charges of child abuse in her son's death. "I was pretty hysterical when the EMTs told us there was nothing more that they could do."
A judge on Thursday ordered the 22-year-old Dylan James Kitzmiller to stand trial on murder and child abuse charges. But his defense attorney, Rudy Bautista, maintains his client did not abuse or kill the boy and that prosecutors are going after the wrong person. He said it was Sullivan's heroin addiction that ultimately led to the child's death in September 2017 and that she took out her agitation during withdrawals on her son.
Kitzmiller did not testify Thursday and remained quiet as he sat in a brown jail uniform, fidgeting at times. Following Sullivan's testimony, 3rd District Judge William Kendall ruled there is enough evidence for the case against Kitzmiller to advance to trial.
Sullivan testified Thursday during the preliminary hearing that she used heroin for a few days after the child was born, saying she was irritable and had flu-like symptoms during withdrawals. She and Kitzmiller had fights where he told her to move out, and she had briefly left the child with him to phone a friend that night saying she needed to find a new place to live, she testified.
When Sullivan on Thursday did not recall specifics of conversations she had with police after the boy's death, prosecutors brought her a laptop with recordings of the interview to help jog her memory. It allowed her to remember information about the boy's injuries, but she could not recall a statement she allegedly made about Kitzmiller saying who was to blame in the boy's death.
"I don't remember that," she said, her voice thick with emotion. The time immediately following her son's death is "muddled" in her memory, she said, adding that she was hospitalized and medicated for an abscess in her arm related to heroin use and was on suicide watch at the time.
"When a person's story keeps changing, those are red flags that should be seriously looked at," Bautista said after the hearing. His client wasn't the baby's father, but he did bond with the child, Bautista added.
Sullivan was originally charged with murder, too, after prosecutors said she continued to leave the child in Kitzmiller's care despite noticing bruises and marks. But she reached a plea deal with the state, admitting to two counts of child abuse inflicting serious injury, a second-degree felony.
Sullivan testified she was living with Kitzmiller in the basement of his mother, Jayna Bowman, after she and Kitzmiller met at Chateau Recovery, an addiction treatment center in Midway. The couple originally told Bowman the boy was Kitzmiller's biological son so Sullivan could continue to stay there, she said.
Bowman outside the courtroom rejected that her son fatally injured the boy. The parents appeared young and inexperienced to her, but she never expected the infant to die, she said, recalling him as "precious" and saying she loved him even after she found out she was not related to him.
"The real guilty party in this is heroin," she said.1 comment on this story
On Sept. 17, 2017, emergency crews were called to the house and pronounced the child dead at the scene, noticing bruising around his eyes and arm. An autopsy revealed the infant had a severe brain injury and had lost weight during his short life, sustaining a fractured arm, broken rib and injured spinal cord, court documents show. The preliminary cause of death was determined to be severe brain injuries.
The judge on Thursday entered not guilty pleas on Kitzmiller's behalf to murder, a first-degree felony, and three counts of child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury, a second-degree felony.
He is due back in court Nov. 19. Sullivan is scheduled to be sentenced the following day.