JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A judge on Friday ruled the state has met the burden of proof to charge a Jacksonville man in the death of his 4-year-old foster son.
Alex Pino, 30, is charged with second-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of James Reese, Jr. Pino, who is being held without bond while awaiting trial, has pleaded not guilty.
The charges stem from injuries found on the boy when he was brought to Wolfson Children’s Hospital April 15 with a broken collarbone. Doctors also found head injuries on the child, who later died.
The cause of death was found to be blunt force trauma and the boy’s death was ruled a homicide, according to the State Attorney’s Office.
During Friday’s hearing, the court heard testimony from Dr. Rebecca Rodriguez Poe, a pediatrician who specializes in identifying signs of child abuse.
“He was hit by a belt and thrown in a tub,” the doctor said, adding that in her professional opinion, it was physical abuse that ultimately resulted in the boy’s death.
Det. Howard Saunders, the lead detective in the case, also took the stand on Friday. Saunders was asked by Assistant State Attorney Thomas Mangan about statements the boy’s sister made about his injuries.
“Why did (the boy’s sister) believe he was thrown in the bathtub like a rock?” Mangan wondered.
To which Saunders replied, “She said when her and her brother Jaden were in bed, they heard a loud banging in the bathtub that came from the bathroom that is directly adjacent to their room.”
“She said she heard James screaming,” he added.
That testimony came up again during cross-examination when defense attorneys questioned the content of what Saunders gleaned from the child’s sister.
“Through her words, I believe she demonstrated what she believed he did, but she did not give me a firsthand witness account of seeing him throw her brother into the bathtub,” Saunders said.
The testimony was overwhelming for Karissa Garcia, Reese’s biological mother.
“It was upsetting, hard. We heard some things that I didn’t know that happened to my son,” she said.
The boy’s uncle, Mark McKenna, told News4Jax he wants to see justice served.
“I want to see him spend the rest of his life in prison because my nephew is going to spend the rest of his days in the ground. What happened to that little boy is not right,” McKenna said. “Every time I think about it, it breaks my heart.”
A pretrial hearing in Pino’s case is set for July 21.
The boy’s foster mother, Michelle Sipko, is charged with manslaughter and child neglect. She has pleaded not guilty to both charges.