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Abuse inflicted on Citrus Park 3-year-old before his death detailed in court records

TAMPA — When Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies responded to a 911 call Tuesday that 3-year-old John Taylor Baxley wasn't breathing, they found him with bruises across his body, a bite mark on his calf and an arm that appeared broken, a report states.

The cause of the toddler's death is still unclear, but the Sheriff's Office says he was repeatedly abused over the past six weeks by his father and the father's girlfriend.

Justin Garwacki, 26, and Kara O'Connell, 21, are charged with aggravated child abuse, and deputies anticipate additional charges. The two were held without bail.

A probable cause affidavit released Thursday gave a horrific account of a little boy's final weeks of life.

Hillsborough County sheriff's Detective David Schramm concluded that the abuse was inflicted for no purpose other "than to injure and cause pain."

When questioned, Garwacki said he had hit his son with a "cupped" hand on his head, face, stomach, legs and genital area, the detective wrote in the affidavit.

Garwacki also told investigators that about a week ago, he had his son in the bathtub and was pouring water over the boy's head to teach him how to hold his breath. When his son was not holding his breath properly, Garwacki struck the boy on the head, the affidavit states.

The boy fell, and his head hit the tub, according to the document. Garwacki and O'Connell filled a sock with uncooked rice and heated it in the microwave. They placed the sock onto the bruise, but that burned the boy's forehead, the affidavit states.

"The burn was an open, gaping wound that then went untreated," the detective wrote.

In an interview with Schramm, O'Connell also admitted to hitting the boy "numerous times about his face, head, and legs."

She said she has hit him hard enough to cause bruising and that she has picked the boy up off the floor by his throat, the affidavit states. She said she did that because the toddler would not listen to her. She said she knew striking John was "excessive and wrong," the detective wrote.

On Tuesday, Garwacki hit his son numerous times on the head, face, stomach and genital area because he was not eating properly, the affidavit states. Frustrated, he pulled his son's chair out from under him and he fell to the floor with a "thud," Garwacki told the detective.

O'Connell said that later that day, after the boy had eaten a Nutri-Grain bar and had some juice, he began to throw up. She put the boy into the bathtub and he stopped breathing, the affidavit states.

When Garwacki arrived at their home in the Citrus Park area north of Tampa, O'Connell told him what happened and he called 911. It's unclear how much time passed between when she noticed the boy wasn't breathing and Garwacki's 911 call.

"After further questioning with both suspects, they admitted to physical abuse against the victim over the last six weeks," Schramm wrote in the affidavit.

Both of them admitted they never sought medical attention for the boy, it states.

Times staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Abuse inflicted on Citrus Park 3-year-old before his death detailed in court records 08/12/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 12, 2010 11:56pm]
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