ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A teary-eyed Synthia Varela-Casaus on Friday entered a plea in state District Court of not guilty to more than 20 charges in connection with the death last month of her young son, including child abuse resulting in death.
Meanwhile, her public defender, Jeff Buckels, issued a statement saying that the different child protective and law enforcement agencies, the governor and legislators, all of whom have publicly commented on the case as they debated “degrees of responsibility,” have treated Varela-Casaus’ “innocence or guilt as a secondary issue and a foregone conclusion.”
Nine-year-old Omaree Varela was found cold and unresponsive by police at his home on Dec. 27. He was taken to a local hospital where examining doctors discovered signs of both current and past injuries. Varela-Casaus originally said her son fell from a “bouncy horse” but later told police she had kicked the boy, who fell and hit his head.
Wearing handcuffs and an orange jail jumpsuit, Varela-Casaus entered her plea through her attorney before state District Court Judge Jacqueline D. Flores, who did not alter the terms of release – a $100,000 cash-only bond. Varela-Casaus continues to be held in the Metropolitan Detention Center.
In his statement issued Friday, Buckels reminded the public that “our client is innocent until proven guilty,” and said that reports in the media and “emotional statements from politicians and spokesmen for official agencies” do not constitute evidence.
Buckels noted the “bitter war of words concerning degrees of responsibility” for the death of Omaree Varela, which has had officials from the state Children, Youth and Families Department, the Albuquerque Police Department, the Governor’s Office and the Legislature weighing in on the case. All sides, he said, “seemed content to treat Synthia’s innocence or guilt as a secondary issue and a foregone conclusion. It is neither.”
While CYFD had conducted at least two previous investigations into the family, the agency did not have an open and active case file at the time of the child’s death. Omaree Varela spent a number of years living with a custodial family. After being returned to his biological mother, he told school officials in October 2012 that injuries on his body occurred when his mother hit him in the head with a home telephone and beat him with a belt. He later changed his story.
Buckels said Varela-Casaus’ legal team will look at issues that concern the “physical facts of Omaree’s injury and death,” issues surrounding the mental and physical conditions affecting the mother’s behavior, and the “so-called” confession police got “from a mentally and emotionally vulnerable woman.”
The initial media image of Varela-Casaus as a woman focused primarily on having to spend time in jail and worried about the amount of her bond “is certainly very far away from the totality of her concerns,” Buckels told the Journal on Friday.
“Her main concern is what she’s being accused of – the death of her son. There’s also the separation from her family. She is shattered about all that. Her life is in kind of a shambles and she has lost her son.”