N.J. appeals court affirms sentence of man who punched 2-year-old so hard it 'split her insides open'
03/15/2023 1:35 pm PDT
HUDSON COUNTY, N.J. (TCD) -- A higher court rejected a Bayonne man’s appeal several years after he pleaded guilty to killing his then-girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter while babysitting her.
According to NJ.com, Reinaldo Rodriguez was watching 2-year-old Karen Lewin on May 27, 2014, while his girlfriend, Jennifer Cruz, was out. Karen reportedly did not let Rodriguez comb her hair, so he punched her in the abdomen. Police got a call that day at about 4 p.m. about a child having trouble breathing, and medics took Karen to Jersey City Medical Center-Barnabas Health.
She was pronounced dead at 5:10 p.m.
The New Jersey appeals court judges wrote in their opinion about the case that Rodriguez "struck the toddler in the abdomen with such force that he lacerated her liver."
Rodriguez pleaded guilty to murder in January 2016 and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. At his sentencing hearing, Judge John Young told Rodriguez he "split her insides open" and gave her wounds "larger than my hands."
Rodriguez recently appealed after a judge denied his post-conviction relief, arguing he was told he would be sentenced to three years, not 30.
According to the opinion, Judge Young asked Rodriguez if he understood that pleading guilty meant facing 30 years in prison. Rodriguez reportedly "testified he had sufficient time to discuss the plea agreement with counsel, he was not forced to accept the plea, but was doing so freely and voluntarily, and was satisfied with plea counsel’s representation."
Rodriguez also reportedly acknowledged he would be under supervision for five years following his release. If he did not enter the plea, he would have faced up to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 67 years.
Rodriguez appeared in front of Judge Young again several years later and "argued plea counsel was ineffective for failing to adequately communicate with him and for telling him he would receive a three-year, instead of a 30-year, prison term if he was sentenced consistent with the plea agreement."
Judge Young, however, disagreed and said he found "no factual basis or any evidence whatsoever" that Rodriguez’s attorney told him he’d get three years.
The appeals court affirmed Judge Young’s decision and denied Rodriguez’s claim that he had ineffective counsel who did not advise him about his sentence.
New Jersey Department of Corrections records show Rodriguez will be released in 2044.
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