Hearing will determine if Los Angeles father faces trial in death of toddler with brain injury, strangulation marks

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LOS ANGELES (KABC) — Witnesses are testifying this week in a hearing that will determine if a Los Angeles father goes on trial for the murder of his 15-month-old son, who died from a traumatic brain injury with signs of strangulation.

Witnesses testified Monday about the death of Gael Herrera Medina in 2021 and previous signs of possible abuse they observed.

The toddler’s mother, Noemi Medina, is already serving a four-year sentence for felony child abuse after reaching a plea deal last year.

Monday’s preliminary hearing was held to determine if Gael’s father, Jose Juan Herrera, 35, will face trial for the boy’s death.

The first witness was a next door neighbor who provided doorbell cam video that allegedly shows Herrera holding his apparently unconscious son.

Neighbor Jasmine Aguirre said she feared for her safety being in the courtroom with Herrera. But fighting back tears she recalled how she heard loud noises from next door on May 12, 2021.

She says Herrera then went to her door holding the toddler.

“The guy comes right behind me with the baby. And the baby wasn’t breathing. I think he was trying to tell me that look, look, look, he was trying to tell me something’s wrong with the baby so I called 911.”

Another witness was a nurse who examined Gael in a doctor’s visit prior to his death.

She said she was concerned about injuries he had suffered – and about her mother’s apparent lack of empathy with her child.

“That visit was very, it bothered me a lot,” said nurse Melissa Valenzuela. “The mother seemed very, not emotionally attached to the child. It really struck me as different.”

Gael and his two older sisters were in foster care for a short while.

An uncle and grandparents on the mother’s side were able to regain custody.

Then, the boy’s mother regained custody.

Gustavo Medina, the boy’s uncle, testified that when his sister, Noemi Medina, would bring Gael around, they all noticed something was wrong.

“When she would bring him around we would see bruises on him,” Gustavo Medina said.

Gael died one month after the county Department of Children and Family Services returned him to his mother’s care.

Ring video allegedly shows Herrera holding his 15-month-old son and running toward an ambulance.

The toddler was taken to L.A. County/USC Medical Center. That’s where emergency room doctors and pediatricians examined Gael. He was pronounced dead the next day.

Prosecutor Jonathan Hatami asked one of the doctors to describe some of the injuries. The doctors testified Monday that there were signs of strangulation and that the baby boy died from a traumatic brain injury. Dr. Maria Lopez-Patel testified that he had bruising on his cheek and a hematoma on his brain.

The preliminary hearing is expected to wrap up Tuesday and the judge will then decide if the case moves to trial.

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