LOVINGTON, N.M. (KRQE) – A Hobbs caught teen on video tossing her baby in a dumpster has been found guilty in her criminal trial. Within three hours Friday, jurors returned a guilty verdict on child abuse resulting in great bodily harm, and attempted first degree murder.
Now 19-years-old, Avila is facing 12 to 18 years in prison for the case. She is expected to be sentenced on May 1, 2023. Avila was charged in January 2022 after putting her newborn baby in a trash bag, then throwing the bag in a dumpster behind the Hobbs Broadmoar Shopping Center.
The baby was found alive by three people who were digging through the dumpster. He survived his injuries and is now in the care of other relatives.
Jurors heard from 18 different witnesses in the trial across three days this week. Jurors were sent off to deliberate the verdict around 12:30 p.m. Friday after hearing roughly one hour of closing arguments.
Prosecution and defense react to verdict
Responding to the verdict Friday, 5th Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce thanked the jurors for serving on the case, calling it “a tough case.” Luce said she believed the strength of the video evidence helped convince the jury to convict Avila.
“That video said it all,” Luce said. “It clearly caught her actions, her expressions and it’s still difficult for people to watch that video when you think about the fact that baby was inside that bag.”
Luce called the case a joint prosecution with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office “to send a message that children matter in New Mexico.” When asked if she had any comment about Avila or her family following the verdict, Luce declined to make a statement.
Avila was represented by an attorney from the Law Office of the Public Defender. A spokeswoman for the office, Maggie Shepard said Avila, her family and legal team are “heartbroken.”
“They’re going through a lot of emotions after the verdict today,” Shepard said. “They’re going to be spending the next two weeks preparing for sentencing.”
Shepard added that Avila will be evaluated prior to being booked into prison following sentencing. Avila was ordered to remain out of custody before she’s sentenced.
“It’s easy to forget that we’re all human and make mistakes and it’s extra hard to find compassion in situations like this, but it’s when it’s most needed,” Shepard said.
Prosecution’s closing arguments
Prior to the verdict, the court heard closing arguments. Prosecutors started arguments, spending roughly 30 minutes summarizing the case for jurors. 5th Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce said the case is “all about choices.”
“The defendant was supposed to care and protect her baby boy, but instead, the choices she made that followed were to try to end the life of that newborn and get away with it,” Luce told jurors. “She gave birth at home alone, she cut that umbilical cord in some manner, she wrapped that baby boy in a towel and left him lying on the bathroom floor, while she focused on cleaning.”
Reminding jurors of the video evidence in the case, Luce again played surveillance video showing Avila tossing a black trash bag in a dumpster. In prior testimony, Avila admitted to jurors that she threw the baby and trash bag into the dumpster.
“She went home to her room, to her bed, with everything all cleaned up,” Luce said of Avila’s actions after she tossed her baby in the dumpster. “Those towels crumpled on the floor by the closet door, parents came home, didn’t say anything to anybody, life is just going on until the police came.”
Avila testified Thursday that she “blacked out” after she delivered the baby. She claims she doesn’t remember anything that happened for more than 10 hours between delivering the baby and leaving the Hobbs Police Department later in the night after 11 p.m. Avila’s defense tried to bolster the blackout claim in testimony from a clinical psychologist who testified that Avila has bipolar one disorder, attention deficit disorder and likely suffered from dissociation after giving birth to the baby.
District Attorney Luce was clear to highlight her skepticism over Avila’s claim of blackouts during closing arguments. Luce called Avila’s blackouts “selective” and “a little too convenient.”
Luce argued to jurors that Avila only brought up blackouts related to being told she was pregnant on January 6 (the day before she gave birth) and after delivering the baby on January 7. Emphasizing choices again, Luce said Avila chose to throw the baby in the dumpster, to not go back to the dumpster, and to not tell or call anyone for help after delivering the baby.”
“There’s no question of what we saw happen on that video,” Luce said. “Alexis Nicole Avila committed child abuse, great bodily harm, to this baby boy and she attempted to commit first degree murder.”
Defense’s closing argument
Avila’s defense attorney Ibukun Adepoju countered the state’s arguments by raising questions surrounding Avila’s alleged intent and by highlighting the baby’s medical condition after being found.
“No matter how deep that you dig into the state’s case, no matter how hard we look at all the evidence, and how closely we look at it, as long as we pay close attention and we review everything that we’ve seen, you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what you will not find beyond a reasonable doubt is that Alexis did commit a crime of child abuse resulting in great bodily harm,” said Adepoju in the beginning of her closing statement. “What you will not find is willful deliberation in attempt to kill her baby.”
Adepoju described Avila’s delivery of her baby as a surprise occurrence and something she didn’t know how to respond to. While the state presented evidence of medical records showing that Avila learned she was pregnant on January 6, the day before she gave birth, Adepoju reminded jurors that Avila testified that she blacked out after learning of the diagnosis from a nurse practitioner at a Hobbs clinic.
“Her response, in fear? In shock? In confusion? [She] blacks it out” Adepoju said, referring to when Avila says she first learned for her pregnancy. “But her pain continues.”
Avila’s attorney described Avila as mistaking labor pain on January 7th for constipation. Avila gave birth to the baby inside of her family’s home while she was by herself, sometime before 2 p.m.
“Alexis, at home, in her house, by herself, with no mother, no father, no sisters, aunties, grandmother, no doctor, no nurse, nobody there but her, in her bathroom, thinking she’s about to have a bowel movement, but instead, something else comes out,” Adepoju said. “She’s 18-years-old, never had a baby in her life, experiencing this all alone, nobody to say to her, it’s OK, this is your baby, you’re going to be fine, you can do this, nobody to pick up that baby and clean him up, wrap him up, swaddle him and hand him over.”
Adepoju also reminded jurors of testimony from doctors, arguing the boy was stabilized around 24 hours after being found in the dumpster. Avila’s defense argued that the boy did not suffer from “great bodily harm.”
Rebutting the defense, prosecutors have argued that the baby would have died had it not been for medical intervention. The baby was suffering from “profound hypothermia,” was anemic, dehydrated, and was at risk for kidney failure amid his recovery.
“You may be able to dig through and find enough evidence to say that there was a child abuse, but not great bodily harm,” Adepoju said. “You may be able to find attempted second degree murder, but no willfulness and no deliberation.”
Prosecution’s final counter
In a final statement following the defense’s closing argument, District Attorney Luce said the defense argued that what happened to the newborn boy was “everybody’s fault but Alexis Nicole Avila’s.” Luce recounted Avila’s actions, contrasting them with the idea that she didn’t call anyone for help after delivering the baby, something she argued that a reasonable person would do.
“When she closed that plastic bag up with a newborn inside, she knew what was going to happen,” Luce said. “She knew, she didn’t want to think about what she had done.”
During Tuesday’s opening arguments, prosecutors called emphasized the strength of the evidence. Wednesday’s testimony included medical and police professionals. On Thursday, the defense presented its case.
Fifth Judicial District Judge William Shoobridge oversaw the case in a Lovington, New Mexico courtroom. The prosecution included 5th Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce along with Alyssa Cervantes and Mark Probasco of the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. Avila’s defense team includes attorneys Ibukun Adepoju, Raymond Conley and Tashika Curlee.