TAMPA — For a few days before Kaydan Guerrero died in the summer of 2020, the 2-year-old boy was in pain.
His mother said she noticed bruising to his body, a cut on his forehead. She thought swelling to his private parts might have been due to a bug bite. When she questioned her boyfriend, David Vasquez Malave, according to prosecutors, he brushed it off as normal, saying that nothing was wrong.
In a Tampa courtroom Tuesday morning, a jury heard a complicated timeline of the days before the boy died. It included mention of a visit to a park where as he played, his mother heard him utter a simple phrase: “Mommy. Hurt.”
State prosecutors cast sole blame for Guerrero’s death on Vasquez Malave. He‘d been entrusted with the boy’s care for the last few nights before the child suffered severe internal injuries, including a brain hemorrhage. And he gave investigators varying versions of what happened, prosecutors said.
“On July 19, 2020, Kayden was a healthy child,” Assistant State Attorney Jessica O’Connor said. “He had no medical condition that could cause these types of injuries.”
Defense attorneys asserted that Vasquez Malave did not harm the boy. They sought to cast doubt by focusing on the boy’s mother, noting that she initially tried to blame his biological father.
“You can discern that David’s statements to police were a boyfriend covering for his girlfriend,” Assistant Public Defender Donna Perry said.
Vasquez Malave, 25, is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in Guerrero’s death. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
The case could hinge on the opinions of medical experts. The state said they would prove the fatal injuries occurred within two to four hours of his death, when he was in Vasquez Malave’s care. But the defense asserted that the closest medical experts could get to a precise timing of the boy’s injuries was within 24 hours.
Portions of the state’s opening statement Tuesday morning focused on a troubled, fractured family dynamic. The boy’s mother, Deyaneira Lopez-Otero, had two sons from different fathers.
Kaydan was the younger of the pair. He weighed just 5 pounds at birth. Early in his life, child protection workers investigated amid concerns that he was malnourished, but found no evidence of abuse or neglect, the prosecutor said.
In the spring of 2020, Lopez-Otero was homeless. She stayed in a friend’s apartment. Vasquez Malave stayed there, too. They’d known each other since middle school, but hadn’t seen each other since high school.
Within a few weeks, she was asked to leave, after her older son broke a TV set. She began living in hotels. She later got approved to stay at Metropolitan Ministries, an organization that offers housing for homeless people. But she was not allowed to bring her young son.
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The boy would spend days with his mother, but spent nights with his biological father. After picking up the boy on July 13, 2020, she expressed concern that his feet were covered in dirt. She also noticed a small scar on his forehead and a bruise on his belly. The father told her to “just keep him,” O’Connor told the jury.
For the five nights that followed, she left the boy in Vasquez Malave’s care overnight while she stayed in the shelter.
On the morning of July 17, shortly after Vasquez Malave picked them up, she went to change her son’s diaper. She noticed his genitals were swollen.
She decided just to monitor it. She thought maybe it was an allergic reaction and gave the boy a Benadryl.
When she saw her son the following day, she noticed his skin felt warm, and he seemed “whiny” and didn’t want to play as much.
The next morning came a call from Vasquez Malave. He told her Kaydan was unconscious, not responding. She told him to call 911.
Hillsborough sheriff’s deputies found Vasquez Malave in the Windermere apartment complex, off of Causeway Boulevard and U.S. 301 in Brandon. Near a Hyundai Elantra, he was attempting to do CPR. He said he’d driven to his mother’s apartment after noticing the boy needed a diaper change. As he retrieved the diaper, he noticed the boy had fallen from the car’s open rear door, striking his head on the ground.
Investigators found the boy’s blood on the car’s floorboard and the rear driver’s door panel. Doctors said his injuries, including a brain hemorrhage, were not accidental, but the result of a high-velocity impact, like what a person would suffer in a car crash, or a fall from a building.
In later statements to detectives, Vasquez Malave would mention driving fast over a speed bump while the child lay in the back seat. But prosecutors dismissed the idea that such a circumstance would have caused the boy’s injuries.
The trial is expected to last through the end of this week.