Brutalizing boy leads to prison
In a courtroom packed with nearly 100 supporters of a severely injured little boy, the man who caused the boy's life-threatening injuries was sentenced Sept. 5, to 12 years in prison.
As part of a negotiated settlement, Josue Jair Mendoza-Melo, 22, of Madras, pleaded no contest to attempted aggravated murder, a Class A felony, and first-degree criminal mistreatment, a Class C felony, which occurred on Nov. 19, 2017.
Prosecutor Brentley Steele Foster, chief deputy district attorney, recounted the crimes that led to the sentence, noting that on Nov. 19, 2017, police received a call about a critically injured 2-year-old child at St. Charles Madras, who was unresponsive when he was taken to the hospital by his mother and his mother's boyfriend, Mendoza-Melo.
The toddler, Ezra Thomas, was airlifted to Oregon Health and Science University with catastrophic injuries, which included a brain bleed, a large bruise on his forehead, a scraped chin and bruising beneath his jaw.
The deputy investigating the incident learned that Mendoza-Melo was in charge of caring for Ezra while the boy's mother, Kaytlynne Rogerson, was at work that morning. Two hours after Rogerson went to work, Mendoza-Melo drove with the boy to pick up Rogerson, who looked at her son and told Mendoza-Melo that they were going straight to the hospital.
During the interviews with Mendoza-Melo, his story changed from saying that the boy fell, to admitting that he had shaken the boy, who had repeatedly hit the back of his head on the floor.
"He demonstrated his actions with a doll," said Foster, noting that it wasn't until Ezra acted like a "drunk baby" that he realized that he was injured.
Looking at the extent of his injuries, Foster said that medical experts said that it wasn't possible that it was an accidental injury.
Tina Jorgensen, Ezra's grandmother, now has custody of her 4-year-old grandson, who was in the courtroom. Ezra, who is legally blind, has a breathing tube and feeding tube, and requires round-the-clock care.
Speaking about her love and hopes for her grandson, Jorgensen said, "He had a whole life ahead of him. I had a life of grandma moments to share with him. Sadly, my hopes and dreams for Ezra's future were taken away on Nov. 19, 2017."
"Before that date, I lived a normal life," said Jorgensen, who had spent 25 years in banking, working her way up to the position of branch manager, but had to quit her job in order to care for him.
"Once normal, and now we are a family striving to give Ezra the best possible life, living a life of hell, but attempting to take moments to enjoy what we have," she said. "We have strangers in our home daily. There is no time to get in jammies and settle down to relax for the nights. This is our new normal, and we are adjusting as best that we can. Every day is a gift and we cherish the moments."
Jorgensen, who has a 15-year-old daughter at home, said that Mendoza-Melo's actions have robbed her daughter of a normal life.
"She became an adult overnight, taking on my responsibilities of the chores and just helping the house function while I'm in Doernbecher (Children's Hospital) with Ezra," she said. "She doesn't go to dances, movies or even out to dinner. She worries about me and Ezra, so she stays in that house to make sure she is there for us making sure we don't need anything."
Jogensen said that she is afraid to leave her grandson's side, since he could vomit and choke, or have a seizure, as he did in the courtroom.
"I love Ezra more than words can ever express and I will fight to the bitter end to keep him alive and live a life of comfort and love, so much love," she said. "He deserves so much more than that, but it's what he was left with after one man decided to take his anger out on an innocent child."
Speaking directly to Mendoza-Melo, Ezra's mother, Kaytlynne Rogerson, said, "You gave him a life sentence and you deserve one ... My son can't see, can't eat, can't breathe on his own, all because of you."
Mendoza-Melo's attorney, Laura Moszer, said that they agreed to the settlement because, "At the conclusion of all this, I believe the evidence would have been enough to convict him."
Asked by Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Annette Hillman if he wanted to make a statement, Mendoza-Melo said, "No, your honor."
Before sentencing, Hillman spoke to Mendoza-Melo. "I don't know if you understand the impact you've had on every single person in this court," she said. "There's no excuse for your conduct. Nothing I do today can bring Ezra back to the happy and healthy child he should be."
Hillman sentenced Mendoza-Melo to 10 years on the first charge, and two years on the second charge, to be served consecutively, with three years of post-prison supervision. He will receive credit for time served on the first charge, but may not be considered for any form of reduction in sentence.
Charges of first-, second- and third-degree assault and another charge of first-degree criminal mistreatment were dismissed.
Mendoza-Melo is scheduled to be back in court in October for a trial on sexual abuse charges unrelated to this case.
Outside the courtroom, Jorgensen hugged supporters, who wore T-shirts with the phrase "Team Ezra," emblazoned on them, and vowed to continue fighting for stricter sentencing guidelines for people who abuse children.
Among those attending was Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, who had introduced and championed legislation in the last legislative session to modify the crime of first-degree assault for anyone who intentially causes permanent physical injury to another person.
Bonham said that the fight is not over. "We are still trying to build a coalition to get the right policy idea into a legislative concept to move forward with in the short session," he said.
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