A medical examiner ruled a 21-month old boy’s death a homicide in 2019 while he was in the care of his mother’s boyfriend, authorities say.
Police had arrived at the boy’s home in Hollywood to find the boyfriend giving the child CPR in the bathroom. He told them that the child had hit his head and fallen twice, affording to the probable cause affidavit filed in 2019. But doctors found injuries that were inconsistent with that account.
It wasn’t until two-and-a-half years later that a grand jury indicted Ricardo Morales, 38, on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.
On Wednesday, six days later, Hollywood detectives and U.S. Marshals arrested him.
Hollywood detectives said the gap of more than two years came about because the Broward State Attorney’s Office had decided not to press charges at the time. Detectives resubmitted the paperwork for reconsideration, and the office took up the case, said Deanna Bettineschi, a spokesperson for the Hollywood Police Department.
The Broward State Attorney’s Office prosecutors said the case was never declined.
“This has been, and continues to be, an ongoing investigation since the child died in April of 2019,” said Paula McMahon, a spokesperson for the Broward State Attorney’s Office.
According to the probable cause document, the child’s mother had taken him to the hospital on April 26, 2019, because he had a fever and flu-like symptoms. When she returned home with him later that night, Morales wasn’t there.
The next morning, the child’s mother said, her son was sleeping and had no bruises, according to the probable cause affidavit.
Morales had returned about 5 a.m., drunk, the affidavit states. Less than an hour later, the mother left her son in Morales’ care. She told police she hadn’t wanted to leave, but she had to work and someone had to watch the child for her.
Over the course of the morning, she and Morales texted about their relationship, she told police. During that conversation, he told her that her son had fallen and hit his head, so she told him to “watch him more closely” and put ice on it, according to the affidavit.
Then she herself became ill. Broward Fire Rescue officials had to transport her to Memorial Regional Hospital for flu symptoms.
She told Morales that she was in the hospital. He told her that her child wasn’t breathing.
She called 911 from the hospital, she told police, as well as a Lyft car service to take her home. She was almost home when she saw an ambulance, and she asked the Lyft driver to follow it.
Hollywood police had responded to a call about an unresponsive child at the home that afternoon. When they arrived, they found Morales in the bathroom giving CPR to the child, who wasn’t breathing. Officers took over until Hollywood Fire Rescue arrived and took the child to the hospital.
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Meanwhile, Morales showed them places in the house where he said the child had hit his head and fallen.
A doctor studied the child while he was on life support, and discovered injuries that were inconsistent with what Morales had said, as well as a fractured rib that appeared to have occurred a week before. The doctor believed the child had been abused.
Three days later, doctors took the child off of life support. He was brain-dead, and his mother and biological father decided they did not want to “torture” him any longer, the affidavit states.
An autopsy from the Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death a homicide.
“I believe that Ricardo Morales is responsible for Aggravated Child Abuse resulting in the death of a child … thus resulting in Felony Murder,” the affidavit concludes.
The grand jury indictment was filed on Dec. 1. A judge ruled that the indictment be sealed, and ordered Morales’ arrest a day later. He is being held without bond in Broward County Jail.
Staff writer Shira Moolten can be reached at smoolten@SunSentinel.com