WEST JORDAN — A jury on Thursday acquitted a West Jordan man of murdering his girlfriend's newborn baby after his attorney argued the child's mother is actually to blame.
Dylan Kitzmiller, 23, was instead found guilty of two counts of child abuse, a second-degree felony, in the death of 2-week-old Archer Sullivan.
The jury of five men and four women reached the decision Thursday after about three hours of deliberation, bringing to a close a four-day trial. Kitzmiller and his family were visibly relieved as the verdict was read, defense attorney Rudy Bautista said.
During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors argued Kitzmiller killed Maria Elena Sullivan's son in 2017 because he was jealous, annoyed and "done" with the baby boy.
But Bautista said Sullivan is the one who should be on trial. A murder charge against her was dropped last year after she pleaded guilty to child abuse as part of a deal with prosecutors.
"Unfortunately, the people who could have intervened were duped by her,” Bautista said. He asked jurors to consider whether she had given the boy some of her heroin to keep him quiet and whether she was actually projecting and "silently confessing" when she told police that all her boyfriend cared about was the drug.
Prosecutor Kimberly Crandall painted a different picture of the child's brief life.
She first showed jurors an image of the newborn bundled and in a cap, then a photo of the bruised, deceased child taken by first responders who were unable to revive him. Kitzmiller had tossed baby Archer in the air "like a football," treating him roughly and kicking at him prior to the night he drew his last breath, she said.
Sullivan testified at a preliminary hearing last year that she left for 30 minutes on Sept. 17, 2017, and returned to find Kitzmiller moving the boy's legs in a "weird bicycle motion." She said she calmed the child down and heard him make a gagging sound before he stopped breathing.
Kitzmiller had also warned her that if she took Archer to the doctor, he would have the baby taken from her, Crandall argued. "He was jealous and he was angry and he was frustrated," she said.
The couple began living in the basement of his mother's house after meeting at Chateau Recovery, an addiction treatment center in Midway. Crews pronounced the newborn dead at the home, reporting bruising around his eyes and arm. An autopsy revealed he died of brain injury and also had a broken arm and rib.
Kitzmiller's defense argued that he was playful and possibly rough with the child, which included biting on Archer's ear, but none of the things he was observed doing would have led to the injuries the infant sustained. Bautista alleged Sullivan inflicted the injuries and was perhaps upset that her boyfriend had bonded with the boy.
As part of her plea bargain in March 2018, Sullivan, 27, admitted to leaving the child in her boyfriend's care, allowing him to inflict serious physical injury. She pleaded guilty to two counts of child abuse, a second-degree felony. In exchange for her guilty pleas, prosecutors dropped charges of murder, a first-degree felony, and child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury, a second-degree felony.
But she is not the type of person who would have a baby only to take the child's life, Crandall argued, rejecting arguments that Sullivan is a "criminal mastermind setting up Dylan."
Kitzmiller's defense drew on testimony from the boy's biological father, Jaymie Waters. He said a pregnant Sullivan cut him off after he visited her at a hospital to find her on heavy pain medications and he raised concerns with doctors.
Outside the courtroom, Waters said he does not believe Sullivan, whose sentencing is Monday, has been held accountable.
In addition to murder, a first-degree felony, Kitzmiller was found not guilty Thursday of a third charge of child abuse, a second-degree felony. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 3.