BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The jury in the trial of a man charged with killing his then-girlfriend’s 2-year-old son in 2018 will have to decide whether he inflicted the fatal injuries or, as the defense argued Tuesday, the child’s mother was responsible and laid the blame on him.
Kaleb Kessinger, 22, and his former girlfriend, Ayled Chavez, were arrested in April 2018 on suspicion of killing Chavez’s son, Ramon Angel Reyes-Chavez, and burying his body in the Kern River Canyon. Chavez accepted a plea deal and agreed to testify at Kessinger’s trial.
Kessinger quietly sat facing the front of the courtroom throughout Tuesday’s roughly 4 1/2-hour hearing. He wore a blue dress shirt with a blue- and-white-striped tie, gray suit and glasses.
Prosecutor Courtney Lewis told the jury during her opening statement the only verdict supported by the evidence is to find Kessinger guilty of all charges including first-degree murder. She said Kessinger was left in charge of the child while Chavez was out, and when Chavez returned the boy had multiple injuries to his face and head.
Kessinger refused to take Ramon to a hospital until Chavez, 21, agreed to lie about what happened, Lewis said. They finally started driving to Kern Medical, but the boy died on the way. They returned home, and later drove to Democrat Hot Springs, where the child was buried.
Told by Kessinger to come up with a story about what happened to Ramon, Chavez called 911 and reported the child was kidnapped, Lewis said. But her story didn’t add up, and upon further questioning she told police Kessinger killed her son. She led detectives to where Ramon’s body was buried.
Police went to Kessinger’s house, and while there saw a black BMW driving through the neighborhood. Chavez identified the vehicle as owned by Kessinger, and the BMW sped off as officers gave chase.
Kessinger crashed a short time later, Lewis said, and had fled by the time officers got to the scene. He was later arrested at a motel. By that time, his property had been searched.
“(Police) processed the scene at the defendant’s house,” Lewis said. “And there they found DNA evidence that would be consistent with the severe beating that Ramon received.”
That evidence included blood on a pillow and elsewhere, and soil on clothing that Ramon wore, she said.
Kessinger’s attorney, David A. Torres, painted Chavez as an unreliable witness who has admitted to repeatedly lying to police and others. During his opening statement, Torres said Chavez gave five different accounts to investigators about what happened the night of Ramon’s death, and didn’t lead police to his body until the child had spent 30 hours in the ground.
Torres pointed out multiple instances where she lied, from the false kidnapping to telling investigators she saw the lights from Magic Mountain where the boy was buried. Magic Mountain lies in the opposite direction and more than 100 miles from where the child’s body was found.
Both Chavez and Kessinger were initially charged with murder. Seven months later, Chavez met with a prosecutor and detective, Torres said. She later pleaded no contest to willful cruelty to a child in exchange for the dismissal of charges of murder and assault on a child under 8 resulting in death. Also, she agreed to testify.
“You’re going to learn from her testimony that what she did was point the finger of suspicion at Mr. Kessinger and piled it on with information that she believed was credible at the time,” Torres said.
He asked the jury to listen closely to her testimony, observe her demeanor and at the end of the trial find Kessinger not guilty of charges of murder and assault on a child under 8 resulting in death.
Following opening statements, Chavez was called to the stand, where she testified she met Kessinger about three months before the death of her son. Their relationship was pretty typical at first, she said, but they soon began cheating on each other and the dynamic changed.
Kessinger insisted putting her name on websites to advertise her as a prostitute, and she agreed because she wanted to stay with him, she testified. The money she made went to him. She said Kessinger told her how long to meet with each “date” and how much they should pay.
On the night of Ramon’s death, Chavez testified, she met with a man and they talked outside a Vallarta market then ate at a Jack In The Box. She said the man posted images of lots of money on Facebook, and she met with him to find out how to make more money.
During the meeting, Ramon was in Kessinger’s care. When Kessinger later picked her up, he didn’t have Ramon with him like he usually did, and when they arrived at Kessinger’s house he kept the light off in the room where he said Ramon was sleeping, according to Chavez’s testimony.
Chavez said the room smelled “like a lot of blood.” She said she went to the bed and felt Ramon’s body. It was cold.
“I turned on to the light to see him and it didn’t look like him anymore,” Chavez said. He had a black eye, his face was swollen and there was a cut to his head.
Chavez went on to describe how they started going to the hospital, but the boy died, and how Kessinger drove them into the mountains to bury the body. She said Kessinger forced her to lie about the kidnapping, and said he’s responsible for her son’s death.
During cross-examination, however, Chavez contradicted some of her earlier testimony. She testified she and Kessinger were business partners and she agreed to prostitute herself to earn money.
“You said that you were selling your body freely and voluntarily, correct?” Torres asked. “Yes,” Chavez said.
Chavez spoke softly and hesitantly during her testimony, her expression rarely changing. On a couple occasions she became tearful but soon returned to speaking normally.
When Torres tried to create a timeline of where she was and what she did the day of Ramon’s death, he noted inconsistencies in her answers. He drew special attention to Chavez’s testimony that she and Kessinger left Democrat Springs at 2:30 a.m. after Kessinger dumped Ramon’s body there.
Surveillance footage shows they didn’t arrive at Democrat Hot Springs until 5:15 a.m., Torres said. Raising his voice, he asked her what happened during the three hours she failed to account for in her testimony, and if everything she told the jury was a lie.
Chavez said she was telling the truth and Kessinger was the one responsible for Ramon’s death.
“Today you’re saying that it was all Kaleb, right?” Torres asked.
“He did it,” Chavez responded.
“Basically, you’re saying that we should all believe you?” Torres asked.
“Yes,” she said.
The attorney then continued to go over other lies she told. Chavez acknowledged telling many lies, but said her final statement to police about Kessinger fatally injuring her son was the truth.
Her testimony continues Wednesday. The trial is expected to last four weeks.