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By Michael Graczyk
HOUSTON — Jesse Joe Hernandez was already a convicted child sex offender when he was arrested for the horrendous beating death of a 10-month-old boy he was babysitting at a Dallas home.
Karlos Borjas had a skull fracture amid bruises to his head, thigh and abdomen when he was taken off life support after a week in a Dallas hospital. His 4-year-old sister was also attacked but survived with swelling and bruises on her forehead, eyes and behind her ears.
“I just remember all the bruises and tubing,” recalled Howard Blackmon, a former assistant Dallas County district attorney who prosecuted Hernandez for capital murder. “He beat the little boy senseless and beat the sister, too.”
Hernandez, 47, is set for execution this evening for the baby’s death 11 years ago. The lethal injection will be the fourth this year in Texas.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last week rejected the appeal, and Hernandez’s attorneys took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Their appeal to delay the punishment argued trial lawyers for Hernandez should have pursued evidence that the boy “likely would have lived had he not been prematurely removed from life support” because he had toxic levels of the barbiturate pentobarbital when life-assisting machines were turned off, according to Hernandez’s attorneys. Ironically, it’s the same drug Texas prison officials now use in the execution process.
The appeal also contended Hernandez’s initial appeals lawyer was deficient for not investigating the case beyond the trial record and that failure cost Hernandez “through no fault of his own” his lone opportunity to raise substantive legal claims following his conviction.
The Texas attorney general’s office opposed the request to block the lethal injection.
Hernandez had been out of prison about 2½ years after being sentenced to a three-year term for indecency with a child and cocaine possession. A former wife and girlfriend also testified he beat and abused their children. Hernandez initially was placed on probation for 10 years for the 1991 fondling of a 12-year-old female relative but went to prison after violating terms of the probation, including failing to register as a sex offender.
In the wake of the boy’s death, his mother lost legal custody of her surviving daughter to the girl’s grandmother. Prosecutors said she made the mistake of entrusting the care of her children to the wrong person.
Hernandez’s trial lawyers in their defense contended she should bear some of the blame for the slaying.
Court records showed Hernandez and his wife of six years had been living for about three days with the two children and their 22-year-old mother in a Dallas house that had no running water. Hernandez and his wife were to watch the children when their mother went to work as a waitress.
On April 11, 2001, Hernandez’s wife left to run some errands and when she returned he told her the kids were sleeping and not to disturb them. Hours later, after their mother returned from work, the girl complained her head was hurting and was taken to a hospital. During her absence, Hernandez’s wife summoned paramedics after discovering Karlos’ injuries.
The 4-year-old girl interviewed by police told them Hernandez beat her and her brother with a flashlight. His DNA showed up in Karlos’ blood on a pillowcase and on the child’s clothing.
Hernandez at first denied beating the children but later acknowledged to a detective he may have hit the boy with a flashlight. He did not include that detail in a subsequent written confession.
“They were being very bad by crying a lot for nothing,” Hernandez wrote. He said he “just exploded and hit them with the back of my hand, not realizing that I was hurting them.”
Hernandez declined to speak with reporters from death row as his punishment neared.