Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
Back in September, we told you the story of Giovanni Vega
, an Osceola County man indicted in 1999 for allegedly beating a toddler to death and who was trying to prove his innocence. After an evidentiary hearing on Friday, Vega, 36, was denied a new trial by Judge Jon B. Morgan.
Vega was 19 when he was convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse for the death of his girlfriend's 3-year-old son Xavier Collado. Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner Shashi Gore, who testified against Vega, was investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Medical Examiner's Commission in 2003 and later found to have been negligent in the autopsy of another child.
University of Tennessee pathology professor Dr. Douglas Radford Shanklin examined Vega's case in 2012 and determined Xavier died from bacterial meningitis. Shanklin's report was enough for Florida's Fifth District Court of Appeal to reverse and remand an evidentiary hearing in Vega's case, but Shanklin died in 2013 before he could testify in front of a trial.
No other expert has been hired to examine the case as thoroughly as Shanklin, and because Shanklin is dead, his report is not admissible in court. This has lead to a lack of evidence for a trial, Morgan told Vega and his public defender Javier Chavez.
Vega’s mother, Aurora Arroyo, and his family members dressed in white to support him at Friday's evidentiary hearing. Arroyo says the family does not have the funds to pay for private attorney or a medical examiner to look at the case, and they couldn't explain to themselves why Vega's defense had not hired other experts to look at the case or brought in two additional witnesses Vega found through a private detective. Chavez would not comment on the case.
Selina Rugel says she was 15 when Vega was arrested, and didn’t understand the magnitude of what was happening to her brother. Their younger sister, Raquel Toro, was a toddler at the time, and her only memories of Vega are of him in jail.
“He needs to get out so he can meet his niece and nephew,” Rugel says. “He can’t see minors, so they’ve never hugged. He needs to come home before they’re adults.”
Vega’s family set up a GoFundMe
account for expenses in the case. Vega appealed Morgan's decision on Friday, and now his case makes it way to the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach.