COLUMBUS — A Putnam County man who served five years for child endangering for what he originally reported as an ATV accident could now face murder charges after he reported beating his son.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled 6-1 Thursday that Travis Soto, 33, could be charged with murder. Soto plead guilty as a part of a deal to the lesser charge and the first-degree felony charge of involuntary manslaughter, a form of homicide, was dismissed.
Soto had completed his sentence for endangering when he walked into the Putnam County Sheriffs Office 10 years ago and after the death of toddler Julio Baldazo, admitted he had beaten the boy to death.
He had previously said he accidentally ran over the boy with an ATV while going around a building in Continental and then changed the story to say the boy had fallen from the ATV while they were riding it.
Findings of Lucas County coroner’s office were consistent with Soto’s initial two stories so Putnam County Prosecutor Gary Lammers did not have evidence to pursue more serious charges until Soto’s confession.
Lammers now wants to pursue charges of murder, aggravated murder, felonious assault, kidnapping and tampering with evidence.
The elements for proving child endangerment and homicide are different so double jeopardy does not apply, Justice Pat DeWine wrote for the majority. The ruling reverses a 2-1 decision of the Lima-based 3rd District Court of Appeals that said that the prosecution would constitute double jeopardy.
“For charges to which the defendant did not plead guilty, jeopardy does not attach until a jury is empaneled or in a bench trial when the judge starts taking evidence,” Dewine wrote. He said Soto pleaded guilty prior to that point so double jeopardy only attached to the charge of child endangerment to which he admitted guilt. That charge and involuntary manslaughter are not the same, he said.
Soto’s attorney Carly Edelstein had argued before the high court that his confession was the third version of events that he had told and could not be counted on to be the true story. To charge him with murder now would result in trying him twice for the same crime.
Lammers told that court that given the autopsy findings, the only one who truly knew what happened on Jan. 23, 2006, was Soto since he was alone with the boy.
“There are no third party witnesses that we are aware of, but we have physical evidence and his statements and that is what we are building our case around,” Lammers said.
Soto has been in Putnam County Jail since he walked into the sheriff’s office and has a $500,000 bond.
Lammers said Thursday Soto has been reindicted based on his admission three years ago.
“The indictment and prosecution have basically been in a holding pattern during these legal arguments and appeals. Baring the defense trying to appeal through the federal system the court will probably skip the case back on the docket for further prosecution,” Lammers said.
Lammers said the Putnam County Common Pleas court will most likely put the case back on its active docket, set it for a pretrial and the case will be processes and prosecuted.
Reach Jennifer Peryam at 567-242-0362.