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Trial witnesses describe child's injuries before death


by Aimee Green, The Oregonian

Long before 2-year-old Keyana Bravo-Hamilton showed up at a Gresham hospital dead and cold in the arms of her foster parents, she suffered terribly.

The medical examiner testifying at the trial of the child's foster father said that blows to her stomach had perforated her bowel, spilling the deadly bacteria that eventually killed her. The child would have moaned and cried as her belly slowly swelled to the size of a soccer ball. After a day or two, she became comatose.

Wednesday, a Multnomah County jury found the foster father, Armando Moreno-Garcia, 40, guilty of first-degree manslaughter for recklessly failing to seek medical care for the toddler.

Moreno's wife, 31-year-old Dunia Soledad Moreno, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter in February and child abuse.

Employees at Mount Hood Medical Center suspected child abuse when Keyana's battered body was brought in Sept. 4, 2006. Large clumps of hair were missing and bruises covered her body. She had five cigar-sized burns.

Keyana's injuries went undetected until her death because of lapses in the state's child-welfare system.

One week after Keyana's death, Dunia Moreno was arrested under suspicion of murder. Prosecutors downgraded the charge after it became clear they lacked evidence to prove she struck the fatal blow.

Each suspect pointed blame at others. Dunia claimed Armando was responsible. Armando told police he saw his adult cousin grab Keyana by the hair and violently kick her in the stomach the day before she died. The cousin -- who is nearly deaf and can't speak -- denied it, and he hasn't been charged. The cousin's disability has made it difficult to interrogate him.

6-year-old speaks

The couple's 6-year-old daughter told authorities she saw her mother hit Keyana, and force her head into a toilet containing feces and urine when she grew frustrated at Keyana's lack of potty-training progress.

"This is a tragic case, this is a horrible case, this is an unnecessary case," Jeff Howes, Multnomah County deputy district attorney, told jurors.

State Medical Examiner Karen Gunson testified that Keyana's death could have been prevented if she had received medical care in time. She said that Keyana had been abused over time because some of her injuries, such as a broken rib, were on the mend.

Howes said Armando must have been hoping that Keyana could survive the latest blow, as she had in the past.

"He made the decision to not bring her in," Howes said. He was "hoping beyond hope that she was going to recover from this injury."

Keyana and her half-sister, Jasmine, 4, had been part of the foster-care system most of Keyana's life.

The girls had lived with a Tigard foster family, but the Morenos were asked whether they would adopt the girls because the state favors foster parents with a familial connection. Armando was Jasmine's uncle. Keyana and Jasmine both suffered physical abuse in the four months they lived with the Morenos, according to the prosecution.

Human Services review

A review of its handling of the case by the Oregon Department of Human Services found that a caseworker didn't visit Keyana every 30 days, as required. The review also found that the caseworker wasn't trained to spot signs of abuse.

Details of how the caseworker was deceived came out in the trial.

In July, Dunia told the caseworker he didn't need to make a home visit. She brought the children to his office. Dunia and Jasmine were dressed in shorts and sandals; Keyana in long sleeves, pants and tennis shoes. Her face was obscured because it had been painted like a cat.

In August -- two weeks before the child's death -- the caseworker visited the home but didn't see Keyana. He was told she was out with Dunia and he didn't wait for their return.

DHS declined to say whether the caseworker or other employees had been disciplined, citing union rules.

Defense attorney John Gutbezahl portrayed a vastly different picture of Armando Moreno -- one of a hard-working man who loved children, even those who weren't his. Gutbezahl said Moreno was born in Mexico but immigrated to the United States legally so he could send money back to his extended family. He agreed to take in Keyana and Jasmine, even though Keyana wasn't related to him.

Gutbezahl also said his client didn't know that his wife was beating the two girls while he was away at work.

"Kids get bruises," Gutbezahl said. "Kids fall down. There's horseplay."

Armando originally told police he knew nothing about Keyana's death.

The next day, he told police that he'd seen his cousin kicking Keyana. During the trial, however, Armando testified that he had lied about his cousin.

Crystal Hamilton, Keyana's biological mother, was in the courtroom for the verdict.

"It's just been a long time coming -- having to wait two years for something I knew was the truth," said Hamilton. "They both knew what was going on."

Armando faces a mandatory-minimum of 10 years in prison when he's sentenced next week. His wife was sentenced in February to 12 years in prison.

2008 Oct 29