Anthony Apodaca heard a faint whimpering coming from the bedroom of his 2-year-old son, Isaiah, on the morning of Jan. 28, 2010.
The 27-year-old father testified Monday in state District Court that he ran into Isaiah's room to find his son's legs pinned between a large wooden dresser and an unforgiving metal railing on the small white bed where the boy slept.
"He kept telling me, 'Hurt. Hurt,' " the soft-spoken Apodaca told jurors Monday during the trial of his girlfriend, Jennifer Stephenson — the boy's mother — on a charge of first-degree child abuse resulting in great bodily injury.
Apodaca demonstrated to jurors how he immediately freed his small son from under the dresser and later saw his son's legs were extremely swollen and red before Stephenson took him to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center.
What Apodaca never saw, according to his day-long testimony, were ropes, strings or any other type of ligature that may have been used to tie the boy to the bed. That differs from how police initially described the case beginning in January 2010, when both Apodaca and Stephenson were first jailed on first-degree child abuse charges.
In December, Apodaca pleaded guilty to third-degree child abuse and the state agreed not to seek jail time if he testified at Stephenson's trial. At that time, prosecutors, presumably, were still pursuing a case against Stephenson that included the theory that the boy's injuries resulted from being tied up.
Defense attorney Sydney West has been contending that such an allegation is unfounded since a March hearing in which she told a judge, "It's very obvious that the state's theory of a ligature is completely not supported by the medical evidence."
Assistant District Attorney Yvonne Chicoine made it clear in last week's opening arguments that the state's case now hinges on whether Stephenson, 21, acted with a reckless disregard for her son's well-being by, among other things, not checking on him for as long as 12 hours.
Apodaca acknowledged Monday that he initially figured the dresser accidentally fell on Isaiah, but then changed his account when police told him that wasn't possible when they questioned him a year ago.
"So police told you over and over someone would have had to do this to Isaiah?" West asked in cross examination.
"Yes ma'am," Apodaca replied.
Apodaca, who spent six months in jail after his arrest early last year on the child-abuse charge, also said he believes the dresser was either pushed onto his son by a longtime personal enemy from elementary school who was trying to date Stephenson at the time — that man has never been named as a suspect in the case — or by a ghost
It also emerged during cross examination that police, according to West, had suggested to Apodaca that his son had been "tethered." West suggested that deep indentations in Isaiah's ankles were the result of elastic bands on the boy's ankle socks that dug into the boy's legs as they swelled overnight while the dresser was on top of him.
It is unclear if Stephenson will take the stand.