Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Convicted child abuser Joseph Bresch and his ex-wife, Michelle had been on the radar of both local law enforcement and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents off and on for months.
On Oct. 28, after weeks of investigation, ATF agents arrested the couple on federal weapons charges.
But that didn’t happen soon enough to help the couple’s 2-month-old infant, Kali, who was taken to San Juan Regional Medical Center four days earlier after she stopped breathing. In critical condition, the baby was flown to University Hospital in Albuquerque, where doctors discovered the infant’s throat had been slashed to the esophagus and more than 30 of her bones were broken. One physician concluded she had been severely and repeatedly abused, court records show.
Kali is expected to survive but has likely suffered permanent brain damage.
Her father, Joseph Bresch, 35, was charged last week with first-degree child abuse. He is also being held on a separate federal charge of being a felon in possession of ammunition. His ex-wife is facing a federal charge of making false statements in connection with the purchase of a firearm on Oct. 12.
Michelle Bresch, 34, was permitted to remain free under conditions of supervision while she awaits trial on the federal charge. But on Thursday, her attorney said in federal court records that she is concerned for her safety if she remained in New Mexico because she had been receiving “threatening communications from the family and friends of Mr. Bresch” because of the child abuse case.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O’Brien of Farmington said his office hasn’t decided whether to charge Michelle with failing to protect her young daughter, who was born prematurely Aug. 30 with a twin sibling who didn’t survive.
Last summer, Michelle was listed as the victim when Bloomfield, N.M., police and San Juan County sheriff’s deputies filed two sets of domestic violence charges against her ex-husband. She told them she was “deathly afraid” of him. But the cases were dropped because she refused to cooperate with prosecutors or they couldn’t reach her, O’Brien said.
Now Michelle Bresch may be the key to providing evidence in the child abuse charge against her ex-husband, who was released from a Nevada prison last year. He served seven years of a 13-year-sentence for child abuse with serious bodily harm.
ATF representatives didn’t return repeated Journal phone calls for comment last week. Attorneys appointed for the Bresch couple in the federal case either didn’t return calls or had no comment.
But arrest and search warrant affidavits filed by state and federal authorities chronicle events in the months leading up to the infant’s being harmed.
The couple came to the attention of the ATF in July, after Michelle contacted Bloomfield police on a domestic violence call and told them that Joseph Bresch had killed pets in the home and that she had been forced to buy guns for him. He is barred by law from making such purchases because he is a felon.
Federal agents had verified her purchase of eight guns and in mid-September hand-delivered a warning letter to her that she was violating federal law by purchasing weapons for her ex-husband as a “straw buyer.”
ATF reviewed surveillance footage at a Farmington gun store from Oct. 12 showing Michelle purchasing another firearm, and saw Joseph enter the store with the infant and her 5-year-old son. He purchased two boxes of ammunition at the time, a federal arrest warrant states.
Agents then conducted surveillance on the couple’s home in Bloomfield on Oct. 20, a federal search warrant affidavit shows. But no arrests were made.
Michelle Bresch told Bloomfield detectives investigating the child abuse that she was shopping at a gun store in Farmington when Joseph rushed inside with her 5-year-old son from a prior relationship and baby Kali, who was bleeding from her neck.
She said Joseph said her son had slashed Kali’s throat while they were waiting for her in the car.
He convinced her not to seek medical help, and to blame the boy, because he “didn’t want to go back to prison,” she told detectives.
The arrest warrant affidavit doesn’t say when the gun store incident occurred.
But on Oct. 24, Kali stopped breathing at the couple’s home, and they called 911.
One physician examining the child at University Hospital believed the cut to her throat was about 5 days old.
Michelle initially blamed the throat injury on a “birth defect” and later told a Bloomfield police sergeant the cut was caused by “milk that had crusted” on the infant’s neck. Finally, she told police, “it was like someone tried ‘to slit her throat to be quiet.’ ”
She also said her ex-husband carried a razor blade and used methamphetamine.
After the couple’s arrest by ATF agents on Oct. 28, the state Children, Youth and Families Department took custody of Michelle’s 5-year-old.
At a hearing last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing of Albuquerque found Joseph Bresch was a flight risk and a danger to the community. Her order holding him in federal custody until trial cites the prior domestic violence cases involving his ex-wife and the infant’s severe injuries.
Days earlier, Bresch appeared remotely while in federal custody on the charge of possessing ammunition and interrupted the hearing to tell Fashing he had to be released so he could return home to his children.
The judge told him they were no longer there.
Records show that because Kali was born prematurely, she wasn’t released from University Hospital into her parents’ custody until about Oct. 8.
In the weeks that followed, Michelle Bresch told Bloomfield detectives, her ex-husband would get Kali from the bedroom and take her into the living room. She said she stayed in the bedroom and “would notice Kali’s cry would change.” She (Michelle) then compared the sound to the sound ‘the puppy made when he (Bresch) would strangle the puppy,'” according to a Bloomfield police arrest warrant affidavit.
“When she heard Kali’s cry change, she told me she knew something was off,” a Bloomfield detective wrote in the affidavit. “She would hurry into the living room, and Joseph ‘would maneuver Kali in a quick and “rough” manner.’ At times he would nuzzle her aggressively.’ ”
“She told me anytime Joseph would take Kali, Kali would ‘instantly start freaking out.’ ”
Michelle divorced Joseph Bresch in 2019 after a brief marriage while he was in prison in Nevada. After he was released, the couple reconciled and moved to Bloomfield in April of this year.
Over the next few months, Michelle contacted police and the sheriff complaining that he was armed and dangerous. One report alleged he had slammed her head into a wall.
On April 24, Joseph was charged with fourth-degree felony of false imprisonment and battery, with Michelle listed as the victim. He was released pending trial on conditions that included not possessing guns and having no contact with the victim. The case was dismissed without prejudice on June 4 after Michelle failed to appear for a hearing.
The next month, on July 11, the couple were living with a female roommate when Michelle called 911 for help. The women told a Bloomfield police officer who responded, who knew Michelle from prior domestic calls, “that they feared for their lives and that Joseph had previously killed her roommate’s cat and puppy. Michelle said he would ‘abuse their dog at night’ and kept a loaded 9 mm pistol on him,” the officer reported.
Michelle told the officer that Bresch had been forcing her to buy guns.
“He thinks there will be martial law soon and he will need to protect his family. She said Joseph has mental health issues and stopped taking his meds and is also using methamphetamine,” the police report said. She said she believed he was selling the weapons for money and drugs.
They also said he had taken the roommate’s car and wouldn’t return it.
Joseph Bresch was arrested on charges of bribery of a witness (threats) and embezzlement of a motor vehicle and was released on his own recognizance, under conditions by an Aztec magistrate. Prosecutors dismissed that case Aug. 5 without prejudice.
San Juan County, like the rest of New Mexico, has had an uptick in horrific violent crimes recently, O’Brien said last week. But the tragedy of baby Kali shook up even a veteran investigator working the case.
“It’s ugly,” O’Brien said. “This is a very bad situation.”