"The child was left in his care when the victim's mother went to work and he beat the child and it resulted in her death," said prosecutor Steve Wright.
Hours after Benjamin Gomez was sentenced for causing her death, an Action News reporter spoke to the convicted killer over the phone from the Fresno County jail. Gomez has been there for more than six years even though he maintains his innocence to this day. But with so much time gone by and evidence of such ugly injuries to the little girl, he told me he gave up in exchange for a guaranteed release date.
Madison Garcia's curly hair couldn't disguise the damage to her head when she was admitted to the hospital. Coroners described it as multiple blunt force traumas causing a 5-inch fracture and several other injuries. Her mother's boyfriend, Benjamin Gomez, was alone with her when she had to be hospitalized, and police arrested him soon after. But he insists he didn't kill Madison.
"I know I'm not guilty," Gomez told Action News. "I know I didn't do this."
Gomez tearfully testified at trial two years ago about Madison's injuries from his perspective. He'd known the girl and her mother for six months and his mom says the girl was in her crib and he was watching TV when it happened.
"He heard something like a stomp and he went to the room," said Veronica Gomez. "The baby was on the floor."
The girl's mother testified at trial that her daughter had suffered at least two previous falls onto a thin carpet at their apartment. Seven jurors were ready to convict Gomez of murder. Five were not. By signing a plea deal for manslaughter, Gomez says he saved the mother from having to testify again, and possibly saved himself a life sentence.
"I signed not because I'm guilty but because, you know, who's going to gamble their life away to 12 people that don't know him and probably don't care about him on a case like this," he said in the jailhouse interview.
Gomez can now get out of prison in about three years. In the meantime, he's lost custody of the son pictured with him on the shirts his family wears. He's also missed every important milestone for the last six years.
"He has missed many moments that our family has had because he's in here paying for something that he never did," said his twin sister, Elizabeth Gomez.
Benjamin Gomez told us he knows a lot of people will never believe he is innocent, and when our reporter asked, he said that group probably includes Madison's mother. She was not in court Wednesday to see him sentenced.
Gomez compared the situation to that of Xavier Hawkins, the man who accompanied his sister to court Wednesday. Hawkins was charged with the murder of his girlfriend's son, but was found not guilty by a jury. And yet, Gomez said, Hawkins received death threats when he got out.
Elizabeth Gomez, whose brother sentenced today for child death, & Xavier Hawkins, found not guilty of same crime. pic.twitter.com/umbi9x95QH— Corin Hoggard (@corinhoggard) March 11, 2015