TAMPA — Michell Blanco, wanted on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of his girlfriend's 3-year-old son, turned himself in late Sunday.
In court Monday, Blanco's private attorney, Rick Hermida, told a judge that Blanco will plead not guilty to each charge.
The 3-year-old boy died May 24 from head trauma and other injuries while under Blanco's care, authorities said.
Blanco, 28, of Tampa, told the child's mother, Itzaira DeJesus, that the child's injuries were from a fall. But doctors told her it appeared he had been beaten.
DeJesus told the St. Petersburg Times that she returned to their home and found the boy motionless and struggling to breathe. She said Monday she was relieved that Blanco was arrested.
Sheriff's investigators questioned Blanco but let him go. He vanished. A few days later, on May 27, the Medical Examiner's Office declared the boy's death a homicide.
The Sheriff's Office then issued a warrant for Blanco's arrest.
Hermida said Blanco turned himself in Sunday. He would not say where Blanco had been or why he did not come forward sooner. Blanco declined an interview request Monday.
Blanco, who was born in Cuba, according to jail records, is a legal permanent resident of the United States, his attorney said Monday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators assisted the Sheriff's Office in searching for Blanco, although an agency spokeswoman would not say in what capacity.
When asked why the Sheriff's Office let Blanco go after the initial interview, spokeswoman Debbie Carter said the investigation had just started and deputies were waiting for an autopsy to determine cause of death.
During and after the interview, Blanco maintained his innocence, according to DeJesus.
Carter said deputies needed evidence that Blanco hurt the boy. "We could not speculate on the actual cause of death," Carter said. The detectives, she said, "have to be very methodical."
Times staff writer Dong-Phuong Nguyen contributed to this report.