In April of 2001, Misty Leverett left her two children, 4-year-old Melodi and 11-month-old Karlos, in the care of 36-year-old Jesse Joe Hernandez, his wife, Mary Jessie Rojas, and the couple’s one-year-old son. Misty had been living with the couple when she went on a trip for three days, leaving the two children at the home they shared on Palacios Avenue in Dallas, Texas.
The living situation was less than ideal; Misty and her two children slept on the floor and there was no running water. Before moving in with the family, however, Misty and her two children had been living in motel rooms with strangers. When they moved in with the Hernandez family, they would look after Misty’s children when she worked as a waitress in Mesquite. “She’d get up and leave the kids,” said Rojas. “Someone had to watch them.”1
On the 11th of April, Rojas went to work, leaving Hernandez alone at home with Misty’s children. When she returned home from work, Hernandez told her not to disturb the children because they were asleep. Rojas noticed that her husband was wearing a bloody shirt and his hand was swollen but nevertheless, she didn’t think to check on the children. Later that evening, Misty returned home and she went to check on her children. Melodi woke up and said to her mother that she was thirsty and that her head was sore. Misty took Melodi to the refrigerator and the light allowed her to see that Melodi’s head was swollen.
Misty feared that her daughter was having an allergic reaction to something that she had eaten and took her to the Mesquite Community Hospital. She hadn’t checked on her son, Karlos. It was discovered at the hospital that Melodi hadn’t had an allergic reaction but instead, had been beaten with some kind of object. Back at home, it would then be discovered that Karlos had also been beaten with some kind of object. He too was rushed to the hospital.
At hospital, it was uncovered that Karlos had suffered a skull fracture and had bruising to his forehead, temple, ear, abdomen, thighs and groin area. Melodi had swelling and bruising to her forehead, eyes, and behind her ears. Melodi would inform doctors that it was Hernandez who had harmed her and her brother, revealing that he had beaten them both over the head with a flashlight.
The following day, Hernandez was arrested on misdemeanour traffic charges. While being questioned, he admitted to the brutal beating he had inflicted on Melodi and Karlos. Despite the fact he admitted that he had beaten Melodi and Karlos with a flashlight, he was released after serving 13 hours for $1,600 in unpaid traffic citations. Dallas County sheriff’s officials would state that while in custody, they had added an additional charge of injury to a child but Hernandez was released because the felony charges stemming from the beating had not yet reached county jail officials.
This wasn’t the first run-in that Hernandez had with law enforcement. In 1991, he was charged with indecency with a child after fondling a 12-year-old relative. His sentence was probated for ten years but Hernandez violated the terms of his probation and was sent to prison. He was also found in possession of cocaine. He would serve three years in prison.2
A few days after the fatal beating, Karlos died from his injuries and Hernandez was charged with capital murder. He was also facing a charge of injury to a child. However, since Hernandez had been released, police had been unable to find him. He would be apprehended on the 26th of April and was taken into custody without incident. While in jail, Hernandez left a phone message with a Dallas Morning News reporter. “They’re trying to say I murdered a baby and I didn’t do it,” he stated.3
While Hernandez had made a full confession to beating the children before Karlos died, he now changed his story and instead claimed that he was forced to sign a confession. “I didn’t do anything to that baby,” he said. “I wanted a lawyer and they just laughed in my face.” Police, however, would completely refute this, stating that they would never deny anybody’s right to fair due process.
Hernandez would be ordered to stand trial for the murder of Karlos.
During the trial, his confession was entered as evidence. Hernandez admitted that he had “exploded after a bad day.” He said that his bad temper had been made worse by Karlos and Melodi crying. He would be connected to the murder through traces of his DNA mixed with Karlos’ blood on a pillowcase and jumper. His wife, Rojas, would testify as a prosecution witness, informing the jury that Hernandez was home alone with the children and wouldn’t let her check on them when she returned home.4 According to Hernandez’ defence, his confession had been coerced. Investigators, however, said that Hernandez had confessed voluntarily.
The jury would ultimately find Hernandez guilty of the murder of Karlos. The jury would now need to determine his fate. They deliberated for just 90 minutes before sentencing him to death.5
It was announced in 2012 that Hernandez’ capital punishment was going to be carried out in March of that year. Shortly before his execution date rolled around, he appealed for his life. He filed a writ which argued that his actions did not directly cause Karlos’ death. Instead, an expert who had recently reviewed the medical records suggested that the hospital could have given Karlos a lethal dose of the drug pentobarbital and he was pulled from life support too soon. 6
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals would ultimately reject his appeal. On 28 March, 2012, Hernandez was executed via lethal injection. When asked if he had any last words, he replied: “Tell my son I love him very much. God bless everybody. Continue to walk with God.” Moments later, he shouted: “Go Cowboys!”
As the drugs took effect, Hernandez said: “Love ya’ll, man. Thank you. I can feel it, taste it. It’s not bad.” He took around ten deep breaths which became progressively weaker. Ten minutes later, he was pronounced dead.7
- The Dallas Morning News, 26 April, 2001 – “Man Confesses, Walks from Jail”
- The Dallas Morning News, 28 April, 2001 – “Man Says Confession Coerced”
- The Dallas Morning News, 27 April, 2001 – “Suspect in Child Beating Arrested”
- The Dallas Morning News, 19 July, 2002 – “Man Convicted in Infant’s Death”
- Lardeo Morning Times, 22 July, 2002 – “Man Sentenced to Die for Fatally Beating Toddler with Flashlight”
- The Texas Tribune, 21 March, 2012 – “Court Ruling Could Affect Texas Death Row Cases”
- Associated Press, 28 March, 2012 – “Texas Man Executed for 10-Month-Old Boy’s Death”