TAMPA — A man who initially said his girlfriend's toddler died after falling down the steps actually beat the boy to death, police said Thursday.
Wilfredo Reyes, 27, of Brandon was taken into custody on suspicion of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse after he beat 2-year-old Yandel Martinez of Tampa, causing blunt trauma to his abdomen that led to his death, Tampa police say. He was being held in a Hillsborough County jail with no bail Thursday evening.
Yandel died the night of Sept. 6 at 4018 N Howard Ave., where Reyes told police that the boy had fallen down the steps and stopped breathing.
But later during the investigation, Reyes, who was the mother's boyfriend, admitted to police that the boy never fell down the stairs, but that he had struck Yandel in the abdomen "too hard" while disciplining him, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Reyes told police the toddler was "never quite right" after that — short of breath and weak before death, the affidavit states.
Police arrested Reyes during the investigation on a warrant for driving with a suspended license, but he was released.
The Medical Examiner's Office completed an autopsy and toxicology tests this week, determining that Yandel's death was not accidental.
Additional interviews with a witness showed that Yandel had vomited on himself after being beaten. The witness showed police a bedroom closet where Reyes put the boy after beating him as a "timeout," the affidavit states. On the walls were smears that appear to have been body fluids wiped by a small arm.
The Tampa police fugitive apprehension unit worked with the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force to interview people until they re-arrested Reyes, finding him at the Claymore Crossings Apartments in Brandon, where he was staying with a new girlfriend.
He was babysitting her 5-year-old son at the time, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.