2012 story: Las Cruces man charged with child abuse in April death of boy

Man charged with toddler's death

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - A Las Cruces man has been arrested and charged with intentional child abuse following an investigation into the April 2012 death of a 21-month-old boy.

Dustin M. Castillo, 27, of 1207 Kansas Ave., has been charged with one first-degree felony count of intentional child abuse resulting in death. He was arrested Thursday afternoon.

Shortly before 8 p.m. on April 20, Las Cruces Police were sent to the 1200 block of Davis Avenue to check out a report of an unresponsive child. Officers found Castillo holding a small child later identified as Mariano Hernandez.

According to police, Castillo told officers that he was home that evening and drove Mariano to a relative's residence when, along the way, the child began choking on a chewable Jolly Rancher candy.

Police said that Hernandez explained to detectives that he patted Mariano's back and tried to dislodge the candy from the boy's mouth, but the boy became unresponsive. Castillo and his relative said they attempted CPR on the young child until officers, firefighters and EMS arrived.

Mariano was transported to a Las Cruces hospital and subsequently to University Medical Center of El Paso, where he died on April 22.

The investigation by Las Cruces Police detectives and medical investigators revealed that Mariano had severe head trauma, including bleeding and swelling of the brain, a fracture to the base of his skull, bruising to the top of his head, a lacerated spleen and other injuries that were not consistent with attempts to resuscitate a child, according to police.

"We had a very thorough and extensive investigation including the Las Cruces police detectives, investigators from the district attorney's office and the office of medical investigators, and that investigation has revealed the injuries to the child were not consistent with resuscitating or reviving a child," Las Cruces Police Department spokesman Dan Trujillo said.

Detectives also determined that Castillo is the only one who had contact with Mariano during the period his injuries were likely inflicted, according to police.

Detectives learned that Castillo and Mariano Hernandez are not related but that Castillo was friends with relatives of the child and had been caring for the young boy and his older sister, age 3, for six to seven months. Detectives discovered that the biological parents of the children had relinquished custody of Mariano and his sister.

ABC-7's New Mexico Mobile Newsroom spoke with Castillo's uncle, Victor Castillo.

"I just feel they're not giving him a chance. He did love those kids dearly and I don't believe that he had anything to do with the death of the little boy," he said.

Victor Castillo said his nephew didn't do anything wrong.

"It's taken a lot of toll on his life also. He's in a state right now, I guess, where he's just hurting. He's been hurting ever since then," Victor Castillo said.

Castillo was booked into the Dona Ana County Detention Center with a cash-only bond set at $250,000.

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