Moses Johnson’s attorney says it was a “tragic accident.”
The 39-year-old is facing charges in the April 9 death of his infant daughter. Wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and shackles, he cried Thursday morning when an Albuquerque judge said he could await his trial out of custody.
His 11-month-old baby had a respiratory infection, so in addition to giving her medication, Johnson had been putting her in the bathroom and turning on the shower to provide a steam treatment, detectives said.
“He had checked with medical providers. They said, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what you should be doing, placing her in a steam room,’ ” public defender Craig Acorn told the judge.
The bathroom at the San Mateo Inn and Suites where they were staying that night was too small for her stroller, Acorn said.
Johnson placed the baby in her car seat, fastened the lap belt, and propped her on the toilet, detectives said. He left her there, had sex with a woman in the other room, and fell asleep.
When he woke the next morning, he found the baby facedown in the bathtub, unresponsive. Her car seat was wedged between the toilet and the tub.
“It is rare for me to see someone so distraught by what has happened,” Acorn said. “And it is not at his hands that it happened.”
Johnson first reported that the baby fell into the hotel pool and he’d jumped in after her, an account disputed by surveillance footage and witness statements. He told police he lied about what happened to the baby because he did not want people to think he killed her, according to court documents.
Prosecutor Caitlin Dillon emphasized that Johnson’s story had changed. Dillon said Johnson had previously been reported to the state Children, Youth and Families Department and had been convicted of a misdemeanor in a domestic violence case, and she asked the court to detain him pending trial.
“This is a reckless and intentional act, to leave a child strapped in a car seat who is 11 months old in a steaming bathroom for seven to eight hours,” Dillon said. “That is not something a reasonable person or a reasonable parent would do.”
State District Judge Nan Nash offered little explanation as she denied the state’s request. Johnson will be supervised by the court’s Pretrial Services Division.
“If he was a wealthy white person, frankly, he probably wouldn’t be charged with this at all, and people would see it as, ‘Oh, my God, the poor parent who had this happen,’ ” Acorn told the Journal after the hearing. “But because he is poor and he is of color and he is staying in a motel, they tried to paint (him) as a bad guy. He is anything but that.”