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An Albuquerque man pleaded guilty Thursday and faces a life sentence for the 2019 beating death of his roommate’s 4-year-old son.
Zerrick Marquez, 28, pleaded guilty to child abuse, intentionally caused, resulting in the boy’s death on Dec. 10, 2019.
Assistant District Attorney Savannah Brandenburg-Koch said at a hearing Thursday that James Dunklee’s death was the result of multiple beatings over a period of months.
Marquez “acted intentionally, which we would be able to prove with ongoing messages between him and his co-defendants, of long-term abuse to James Dunklee,” Brandenburg-Koch told a judge during the plea hearing.
Marquez caused the boy’s death “by beating him over a matter of months, and resulting in at least 50 different injuries to James Dunklee,” she said.
Police say James and his mother were living with Marquez, his girlfriend and two children at an apartment in the 7200 block of Central SE when the boy was killed.
Detectives said Marquez was babysitting when he allegedly beat and killed the boy, according to a criminal complaint.
Marquez told police he accidentally fell on the boy, but an autopsy showed a skull fracture, lacerated internal organs and other injuries not consistent with his story.
An autopsy performed by the Office of the Medical Investigator found that James died as a result of blunt trauma to his head and body and ruled his death a homicide.
Detectives say they found text messages between Marquez and his girlfriend in which the couple discussed beating James and lying to his mother about a severe bruise on the boy’s leg.
The boy’s death has resulted in criminal charges against at least two others, including the boy’s mother, Krista Cruz, and Marquez’s girlfriend, Pamela Esparza.
Esparza, 24, and Cruz, 25, are each charged with child abuse resulting in death. Both are scheduled for trial on Dec. 12 in 2nd Judicial District Court.
The boy’s injuries in the months before his death prompted the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department to develop a safety plan that prohibited Marquez from caring for the boy, court records show.
A CYFD investigation into the boy’s death, released in April, found at least four reports of physical abuse against James before his death. Those reports date to June 2019 – six months before his death.
The boy told investigators during a safehouse interview in October 2019 that several perpetrators were responsible for his injuries, according to the report.
The safety plan devised by CYFD in October 2019 required James and his mother to reside at Joy Junction Shelter with care for the boy provided by Kid’s Castle.
The plan also prohibited Marquez and Esparza from being around the boy, the report said.
Cruz, the boy’s mother, reported on Oct. 24, 2019, that she had left Joy Junction and that James was staying with her sister, but Cruz refused to provide the caseworker with contact information for the boy, the report said.
A CYFD caseworker tried unsuccessfully to contact the sister in late October 2019, just over a month before James’ death. Cruz told the caseworker on Oct. 30, 2019, that she and James were living with an aunt in Arizona, the report said.