MADRAS — Josue Jair Mendoza-Melo got 12 years in prison for his crime. But his victim got a life sentence.
More than 50 men and women, many wearing “Team Ezra” T-shirts, packed Courtroom B in the Jefferson County Courthouse on Thursday, where for the first time, Mendoza- Melo accepted responsibility for severely beating his former girlfriend’s only child.
As Ezra Jerome Thomas, 4, sat nearby in a wheelchair, breathing from a tube attached to his neck, the 22-year-old Mendoza-Melo pleaded no contest to attempted murder and first-degree criminal mistreatment two years after his arrest.
Prosecutors were limited in the penalty they could seek, but that didn’t keep Ezra’s relatives from venting before the judge.
“I was going to be able to cherish graduations, proms and even look forward to him getting married and building a family of his own someday,” Ezra’s grandmother, Tina Jorgensen, told the court.
“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 November 19, 2017. Before that date, I lived a normal life.”
Ezra’s life is much different than it was on the day his mother left him in the care of Mendoza-Melo while she went to work.
Ezra requires care 24/7 and can do next to nothing on his own. Ezra has tracheal and feeding tubes, and a programmable shunt to keep fluid from building up in his brain. He’s legally blind and has between one to three seizures per hour. He had one seizure during the hearing.
“It’s hard from my perspective,” Judge Annette Hillman told the defendant. “There’s no lecture I can give you that would change what’s occurred. I hope you understand the impact your conduct has had on every single person in this room. There’s no excuse for your actions. There’s no excuse for the trauma you inflicted on Ezra and what he has to endure for the rest of his life.”
About 10:45 a.m., Nov. 19, 2017, Kaytlynne Rogerson rushed her 2-year-old son to St. Charles Madras. Her boyfriend of four months — Mendoza-Melo — had called her at work and said Ezra wasn’t acting right, like a “drunk baby,” he said.
When they arrived at the hospital, Ezra was stiff and unresponsive. Within minutes, doctors decided he must be flown to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland to save his life.
Hours after surgery to relieve swelling in his brain, a Jefferson County sheriff’s detective pulled Tina Jorgensen away from her grandson’s hospital room and told her Mendoza-Melo had admitted to striking Ezra, although he gave investigators multiple, differing accounts of what happened.
He said Ezra had tripped over a child-safety gate, that he had fallen and hit his head on toys, that he had tried to “rile up” the boy in anticipation of seeing his mother after she got off work.
Neither authorities, nor the boy’s doctors heard a credible account of what happened to Ezra, they said.
Ezra’s mother told The Bulletin she wrote a lengthy speech to give at the sentencing, and rewrote it “a hundred times.” But Thursday, when Rogerson’s time to speak came, she ditched her notes and spoke from her heart.
“My son can no longer eat,” she said. “He can’t talk. He can’t breath on his own. And all because of you. Coward. Who beats kids? You’re in for a rude awakening in prison. You’ll get your karma, and I can’t wait to hear about it.”
With that, she sat back down beside her son.
Mendoza-Melo has a separate pending case in Jefferson County alleging 11 counts of child sex abuse against a different alleged victim. For those charges, he could also receive more than a decade in prison.
That case is scheduled to begin Oct. 28.
Mendoza-Melo’s lawyer, Laura Moszer, told the court she advised her client against addressing the court due to his other charges.
“Having heard the family’s statements, there’s really nothing that can come from this side of the table that’s going to make a difference to them.”
Mendoza-Melo shuffled into the courtroom in orange jail clothes and hardly moved until he was escorted away.
Ezra wore new moccasins made for the hearing by his great-grandmother.
Several relatives of Mendoza-Melo were in attendance. So was state Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, who last legislative session carried a bill called “Ezra’s Law” that would have increased penalties for defendants in cases of catastrophic injury. The bill died in committee.
Supporters of Ezra pledged Thursday to continue working to change the law.
“Ezra’s story isn’t over,” his grandmother said. “And as far as the man that did this to Ezra, I will pray he can find God because if he doesn’t, there will be the justice that Ezra deserves — being damned to eternal Hell.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org