Robert Aragon's decision on Christmas to let his children walk in snowy weather ended in his daughter's death, but won't cost him his freedom.
A jury unanimously decided Friday after a weeklong trial in Lincoln County that Aragon was not guilty
of charges of involuntary manslaughter and injury to a child.
Acquitted, Aragon, 56, of Jerome, hugged his lawyer, walked down a flight of stairs with his family and left the trial behind. He told the Times-News he had nothing to say.
The jury took about two hours to come to their decision Friday in a trial that has attracted national attention.
But Aragon's lawyer, Patrick McMillen, covered some bases during final arguments Friday that lifted the father and grandfather from the possibility of serving 25 years in prison. McMillen pitched analogies to jurors to show how Aragon was not criminally negligent for letting his children go on the fatal walk.
He argued that there are common actions parents take with their children, which he said contradict Idaho's felony injury to a child statute. Throwing a baby into the air and catching the child is just one example McMillen cited.
"When you think about it, you're guilty of this statute," he told jurors of the injury to a child law.
"I never rode in a car seat," McMillen said. "I didn't think my mom was ever guilty of this statute for not putting me in a car seat."
McMillen cited gymnastics, trampolines, pit-bulls, guns, and fast food as all potentially dangerous things that parents expose their kids to.
"You can understand how we all put our kids at risk," McMillen argued.
Aragon told authorities that he didn't know the weather would worsen when he let his kids begin a trek that started with snow angels
. He never took the witness stand during his trial.
Mistakes happen, McMillen said. "There's a difference between a tragedy and a felony."
Prosecutor E. Scott Paul, however, said Aragon's decision to let the kids walk was criminally negligent.
"This case is about the defendant's decision and what he allowed an 11-year-old and 12-year-old to do," Paul said during closing arguments.
Aragon dug snow from his stranded car for hours before the kids left. After they walked off, Aragon got the car free and drove to Jerome, which is nearly 20 miles from Shoshone. He had a cell phone during that drive and didn't call the children's mother, JoLeta Jenks, or authorities to inquire about the children, said Paul.
"He doesn't say anything about his kids," Paul argued. "Mr. Aragon's decision was deadly."
Aragon returned to West Magic Road from Jerome to join the search, after the children's mother called him saying they hadn't arrived.
But Sage froze to death, Paul said, "as a result of the defendant's decisions."
Paul had first charged Aragon with second-degree murder but reduced the allegation to involuntary manslaughter. Paul also had charged Aragon's cousin, Kenneth Quintana, who was a passenger in the car, but those charges were dismissed before that case went to trial.
Judge Mark Ingram ordered the case against Quintana dismissed in January because he was not a parent to the children.
Aragon has taken Bear to counseling sessions since Sage's death. Jenks, the children's mother, said Friday moments before the verdict that Aragon is being punished, no matter what the jury's decision.
"He has to live with this," she said.