Crime & Courts

Update: Mom, boyfriend charged with murder in death of boy found lifeless and bruised

Update 5 p.m. Oct. 3: Prosecutors on Thursday formally charged a Wichita mother and her boyfriend with murder in the death Sunday of a 2-year-old boy found bruised and lifeless in the home where he lived.

Stephanie Aviles, 24, and Bernardo Gonzalez-Mejia, 31, made their first appearances in a Sedgwick County courtroom on the charges Thursday afternoon, via a video link from where they’re being held at the Sedgwick County Jail.

Both are accused of first-degree felony murder in the death of Aviles’ son, Jacob. The charge carries a life sentence upon conviction.

It remained unclear Thursday exactly what Jacob endured before he died. Police said Monday that his mother left him in Gonzalez-Mejia’s care while she ran errands with another child Sunday morning. At some point while she was gone, Gonzalez-Mejia’s called her to say that Jacob wasn’t breathing. She called 911.

First responders found the toddler dead and covered in bruises, leading authorities to arrest the couple.

Police said Aviles and her children had been living in Gonzalez-Mejia’s home at 1126 W. Munnell for some time before Jacob died. Although police characterized their relationship as romantic, Gonzalez-Mejia’s ex-wife told The Eagle this week that Gonzalez-Mejia wasn’t dating Aviles and had allowed her to move in with him to help her out.

The move happened at least two months ago, according to Jacob’s maternal grandmother, Adelis Aviles.

The homicide charge comes after the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center performed an autopsy on the boy’s body earlier this week. The results of those tests have yet to be released publicly. That could take several weeks.

Aviles and Gonzalez-Mejia both were expressionless and said little during their court hearings Thursday. She was dressed in a yellow jail jumpsuit. He wore green. Each leaned up against a wooden podium, hands folded or arms crossed, as a judge read aloud their charges and announced that their bond amounts would be increased by more than $100,000.

The judge told Aviles that she stood accused of killing Jacob while committing a crime of aggravated child endangerment. Neither he nor police have elaborated on what exactly that entails.

Gonzalez-Mejia was told through a Spanish-speaking interpreter that prosecutors had accused him of killing the boy while committing child abuse. Specifics about the alleged abuse have not yet been revealed.

Both Aviles and Gonzalez-Mejia are due back in court on Oct. 17 for their next hearings and will be represented by court-appointed defense attorneys.

Neither is allowed to have any contact with children younger than 16 including their own, the judge said in court. Aviles has two other children, ages 5 and 6. Gonzalez-Mejia has at least two young children, according to court records and his ex-wife.

Aviles’ bond amount is now $300,000. Her boyfriend’s bond was raised to $450,000 by the judge.

Original story, Oct. 2: A Wichita mother and her boyfriend are facing a new allegation of murder in the death of a toddler Sunday.

Wichita police spokesman Charley Davidson said Wednesday afternoon by email that an autopsy completed on 2-year-old Jacob Aviles led the couple to be booked on a new charge of first-degree felony murder. Police originally arrested the boy’s mother, 24-year-old Stephanie Aviles, on suspicion of aggravated child endangerment and the boyfriend she lives with, 31-year-old Bernardo Gonzalez-Mejia, on suspicion of child abuse on Sunday after the boy was found lifeless and covered with bruises.

Police didn’t initially call the boy’s death a homicide because an autopsy was pending. Davidson referred inquires about the boy’s exact cause of death to the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center.

The county’s spokeswoman, Kate Flavin, said by email that the “report is not yet finalized.”

Police said earlier in the day that investigators were presenting their findings to the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday. Prosecutors in the office will decide what, if any, formal criminal charges might be filed.

The public could learn what those might be as early as Thursday.

Jacob died Sunday morning at Gonzalez-Mejia’s home at 1126 W. Munnell, where he lived with his mother and siblings, ages 5 and 6. Jacob’s mother left him in Gonzalez-Mejia’s care while she was out running errands with another child and at some point, police said, Gonzalez-Mejia’s called her to say Jacob wasn’t breathing.

First responders pronounced the toddler dead at 11:27 p.m. after Jacob’s mother called 911. Bruising on the boy’s body prompted Stephanie Aviles and Gonzalez-Mejia’s arrests, police have said.

Jacob’s maternal grandmother, Adelis Aviles, told The Eagle this week that she had meet Gonzalez-Mejia a couple of times but “never had any” concerns about him. She didn’t want to talk about whether she saw any injuries on Jacob before he died. She last spoke with Jacob over a phone video chat the night on Saturday and he looked and sounded happy, she said in Facebook messages with The Eagle.

She described her grandson in the Facebook exchange as “a light in all of our lives” who was “gorgeous inside and out.”

Gonzalez-Mejia’s ex-wife, Thalia Mendez, also expressed no concerns about Gonzalez-Mejia in a phone interview with The Eagle, saying “he’s not that person that everybody is painting him out to be.” The couple have two young children together and divorced recently after four years of marriage, she said.

In all, Mendez said she and Gonzalez-Mejia were together for 10 years.

Jacob’s father, Norman Rosario-Flores, told The Eagle on Tuesday that he “wants to see justice” for his son.

Jacob’s is the third Wichita child to die from abuse or neglect this year. His family is accepting donations to help pay for his funeral at www.gofundme.com/f/jacob-aviles.

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Amy Renee Leiker has been reporting for The Wichita Eagle since 2010. She covers crime, courts and breaking news and updates the newspaper’s online databases. You can reach her at 316-268-6644. She’s an avid reader and mom of three in her non-work time.
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