A Lincoln County jury is expected to begin deliberations today in a manslaughter case against a Jerome man accused in the Christmas Day hypothermia death of his 11-year-old daughter.
Both prosecution and defense attorneys concluded their cases Thursday morning in the trial of 56-year-old Robert Aragon, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony injury to a child. Fifth District Court Judge G. Richard Bevan recessed the trial until 8:30 a.m. today, when jury instructions will be given and closing arguments made.
The case against Aragon dates back to Christmas Day 2008 when he was taking his children, 12-year-old son Bear Aragon and 11-year-old daughter Sage Aragon, to visit their mother, JoLeta Jenks, in the West Magic Reservoir area in south Blaine County. Late that morning, Aragon's car became stuck in snow on West Magic Road about a mile from state Highway 75.
Aragon allegedly allowed the children to attempt a nine-mile walk to the house where their mother was staying. A winter storm set in later and the children never made it. Bear was found by search and rescue personnel around 10 a.m. that evening, cold but alive, in a roadside unheated restroom. Sage was found dead about 3 a.m. the following morning covered with snow alongside the road.
In court Thursday, Bevan denied a defense motion for dismissal of the case. At the conclusion of prosecutor E. Scott Paul's case, public defender Patrick McMillen argued that Paul had failed to show "culpability" on the part of Aragon.
"There was never any intention in this man's mind for any harm to come to those children," McMillen said.
McMillen further argued that Aragon had been "shoveling snow for two to three hours" when the children began their ill-fated trek. He suggested that Aragon himself was hypothermic which can lead to "making bad decisions."
Bevan ruled that the state is not required to prove that Aragon "intended to hurt the children" and that it was up to the jury to determine whether Aragon showed "willful indifference."
Bear Aragon, now 13, testified earlier that it was his idea to attempt the walk.
"I decided to go and I talked to my dad first," Bear said. "I told Dad, 'Sage wants to come too.' She was insistent on going."
Bear said the sky was "sunny" when the children set out and that the wind wasn't blowing. He said he thought he and Sage could complete the walk in about three hours.
He said neither he nor Sage were cold when they started, but later the wind started to pick up.
Temperatures in the area were recorded below freezing and the wind was blowing snow and ice later in the day at about 25 mph.
Bear further testified that cell phones wouldn't work in the area that day and that his mother was not notified that the children were walking.
He said snow on the road was about ankle-deep, but tire tracks showed that other vehicles had driven the road that morning.
McMillen called several character witnesses for Aragon.
Aragon's older daughter, Teressa Aragon, a half sister to Bear and Sage, testified that her father was attentive, loving and responsible. She said it was common for Bear and Sage to walk to where they wanted to go.
"They always walked all over the place," she said.
Aragon's employer, Randy Adams, who owns a custom farming business north of Shoshone, said Aragon was a "reliable employee" and that he had "never known Robert to put his kids in a dangerous situation."
Adams testified that he drove on Christmas Day to the Richfield area, about 20 miles east of Magic Reservoir, and that conditions were warm enough that he had a hard time getting his grandchildren to keep their coats on.
"But by mid afternoon it got to blowing and it wasn't real nice," Adams said.
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org