OTTAWA — Travis Soto could be facing a death penalty specification in the bizarre case involving the death of his 2-year-old son that has raised questions about double jeopardy.
On Monday, Soto appeared in Putnam County Common Pleas Court with his attorneys Bill Kluge and Bob Grzybowski.
Putnam County Prosecutor Gary Lammers is pursuing charges of murder, aggravated murder, felonious assault, kidnapping and tampering with evidence against Soto. Lammers said the case could be viewed as a potential death penalty case as the victim was under age 13 when he died.
Soto served five years in prison for child endangering in the death of toddler Julio Baldazo. He originally told authorities the death was the result of an ATV accident. However, after his release from prison, Soto walked into the Putnam County Sheriffs Office and admitted he had beaten the boy to death.
Lammers said Soto has been re-indicted based on his admission three years ago.
“The indictment and prosecution have basically been in a holding pattern during these legal arguments and appeals. Barring 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.
Judge Keith Schierloh said there was a speedy trial waiver filed by the defendant on Sept. 13, 2016, that Kluge suggested still remains.
Schierloh set a pre-trial date for Soto at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 19. Soto currently is in the Putnam County jail on a $500,000 bond.
The Ohio Supreme Court previously ruled 6-1 that Soto, 33, could be charged with murder.
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 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 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.
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’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.
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.