Two sentenced to life in prison in Capital Murder of four-year-old
By Jessica Coleman
On Thursday, November 10, after eight days of testimony, it took a jury of Jackson County residents just ten minutes of deliberation to find former Ganado residents Karina Yohera Flores and Damien Gabriel Garza guilty of the crime of Capital Murder. The two were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the March 2021 killing of Flores’ four-year-old son, Nehemiah Angel Flores, who had lived with them for just seven months.
The case was what Judge Bobby Bell called a “non-death capital murder case,” as he read the verdict and punishment, meaning that life in prison was the only possible punishment following a guilty verdict.
Just after midnight on Feb 28, 2021, Nehemiah was taken by private vehicle from Ganado to the Jackson County Hospital by Karina Flores and Damien Garza, according to testimony by law enforcement and hospital surveillance footage. According to Deputy Chris Marlow, Garza dropped Karina off several yards from the entrance, and footage shows Flores running into the building with Nehemiah as Garza’s white SUV drives away.
According to medical staff, Nehemiah arrived not breathing, with no pulse, and a critically low core body temperature. Jackson County hospital staff who treated Nehemiah testified that his mother was distracted, on the phone, and not paying attention to Nehemiah as they worked on him, and described her as unemotional and "parroting" what she heard on the phone. They immediately doubted the mother’s claims that he had fallen in the bath, as his injuries were in various stages of healing.
Flores claimed at the hospital that the injuries were caused by a fall. She later claimed in a recorded interview with law enforcement that they were caused by “tantrums.” She also stated that “a friend” dropped her at the hospital and refused to say who that friend was. She claimed she lived alone, and that she did not have a boyfriend, and that an unidentified “family friend” watched Nehemiah when she worked. Police obtained a warrant for her phone and identified Garza as the person she had been on the phone with at the hospital.
Expert witness Dr. Marcella Donaruma, who specializes in child abuse pediatrics and treated Nehemiah at Texas Children’s Hospital, detailed bruises on his head, face, torso, genitals, and extremities, and also described internal injuries that point to long term abuse. She recalled labeling his injuries “TNTC,” or “too numerous to count,” as many of them overlapped and were in various stages of healing. She also said he suffered “global” brain damage in which “no area was normal.” When asked if these injuries could have happened accidentally, she testified that this was not just abuse, but “child torture” over a prolonged period of time. Donaruma also said “this child was beaten to death,” and that the injuries were not the kind of injuries that someone might not notice if they had any involvement with the child, countering statements by Karina Flores to police that she didn't know of any abuse.
An autopsy showed Nehemiah had 14 broken bones, including several ribs, bones in his hands, sternum, and spine. The medical examiner found a lacerated liver, a lacerated pancreas, and traumatic brain injury as well as bruises covering his entire body, including multiple injuries around his neck. A neuropathologist testified that Nehemiah likely suffered from strangulation sufficient to cut off circulation and destroy the pituitary gland, something he said would take much force and “three to five minutes.” He also described traumatic brain injury caused by repeated and prolonged head trauma.
A cellmate of Garza’s testified that Garza had admitted to the beatings in jail but stated that the prosecution was making the killing a “bigger deal than it is,” and that the injuries were caused by roughhousing with the boy.
Attorney Lara Autrey, who represented Karina Flores, painted a picture of a battered woman with a low IQ and an inability to get away from Damien Garza, and Garza’s defense attorney Dr. Joseph Willie leaned on reasonable doubt, claiming no evidence could prove that Garza inflicted the injuries. Assistant District Attorney Stephen Tyler argued that in a capital murder case such as this one, the law states that a person is guilty whether they inflicted the injuries or failed to make reasonable efforts to prevent the injuries, something he said neither Flores nor Garza did. He also showed the court a video of Flores and Garza verbally berating the child for showing what medical experts testified were likely symptoms of his injuries.
Flores’ parents, who raised the boy before contracting COVID in August of 2020, testified on her behalf that she was an abused woman, unable to leave or save her son and that Garza would not allow them to see Nehemiah or allow him to come back and live with them.
Karina Flores also has a daughter, with whom she has no contact, according to her statements to police.
Neither defendant took the stand in their own defense. Flores cried as the verdict was read, while Garza stared straight ahead. Both were remanded to the Jackson County Jail to await transfer to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division.