Court records: As someone surfed Internet, Jacksonville tot’s life was slipping away
By Bridget Murphy
The first Internet search about head trauma happened at 10:54 a.m.
Someone used one of two laptops in Biannela Susana’s apartment to look up content about when a person “gets knocked out.”
Then hours passed before someone Googled “concussions on children” at 2:38 p.m.
Around the same time, there was a search on the Toshiba laptop for “unconscious for hours.”
At 3:07 p.m. someone looked up info for St. Luke’s Hospital in Jacksonville.
The Web surfing on that laptop ended at 4:05 p.m. No one did any similar Internet searches on an HP laptop police also found in the home that day.
But a forensic exam of the Toshiba showed that as the life of Susana’s 2-year-old son, David Galarraga, was slipping away March 14, someone did a lot more Internet surfing.
“In between the times Susana was searching about unconsciousness, she also downloaded music, searched for popular screen savers and logged on to YouTube,” a detective’s report says.
The report was among more than 200 pages of court documents prosecutors released Wednesday in response to a public records request from The Florida Times-Union.
Police arrested Susana in April, charging her with aggravated manslaughter of a child. But in the hours after she brought David to a hospital, police already had at least one other suspect in mind.
On March 15 they arrested Susana’s 12-year-old son, Cristian Fernandez, for assaulting his half brother. Authorities later upped the charges to include first-degree murder, saying Cristian inflicted fatal injuries by slamming David against a bookshelf while their mother wasn't home. A grand jury indictment in June made him the youngest person in the city’s history to face that charge.
As both mother and son await separate trials, the newly released documents provided more details about the day of the crime. They also sparked questions about who was behind the Toshiba’s keyboard.
Police records show Susana got to St. Luke’s at 5:25 p.m. that day. David’s injuries were so critical that doctors sent him by helicopter to Shands Jacksonville hospital’s trauma unit.
A detective later noted the child’s eyes were partially rolled back in his head and he had no eye or body movement. David also had a blue cast that went from below his left hip to his foot, treatment for the broken leg he suffered in January. Among his new injuries was a skull fracture.
After two days, doctors turned off his life-support machines when they knew he wouldn’t wake up. But a physician would tell police that it might have been possible to save David’s life if Susana had sought medical help right away. While her arrest report shows she didn’t, there still are questions about the timing.
The report shows her account of David’s injuries changed as she talked with police. At first she said she was in the kitchen when her son got hurt. Later she said she wasn’t home when Cristian told her David fell from a bunk bed.
The 25-year-old said she went home and found David unresponsive, before changing his clothes and putting ice on his head. She told police she looked up concussions online and hoped the 2-year-old would wake up.
Susana also admitted David previously broke his leg while wrestling with Cristian, something she said she lied about at first and told Cristian to lie about.
Police also wrote in the arrest report that Susana waited about two hours before seeking help at St. Luke’s on March 14.
But Susana’s lawyer tried to cast doubt Wednesday on whether it was the mother at the Toshiba’s keyboard that day. Defense lawyer Shawn Arnold said it was Cristian’s laptop where all the Internet searches happened.
While court records show both computers listed Biannela’s name and neither had passwords, Arnold pointed out the Toshiba listed “Cool Kids Learn” as its user-defined account.
He also pointed out that the first medical website someone surfed to was kidshealth.org, something he called child-friendly. He said the 3:07 p.m. search for hospital info fit with the approximate two-hour time frame from his client's arrest report.
“This is his computer,” Arnold said. “That’s all I’m going to say. It’s the state’s burden to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
However, Assistant State Attorney Mark Caliel said Internet searches on the Toshiba also included clicks to a bank website. He questioned if a 12-year-old would be doing online banking. The records show that at 2:44 p.m. someone surfed to www.wachovia.com
Public Defender Matt Shirk, whose office represents Cristian, said he wasn’t surprised Susana’s lawyer was trying to minimize her culpability.
“I’m sure that’s just the beginning of blame she’ll try to shift to her own child,” he said.
Police probe for answers
At about 11:40 p.m. on March 14, police went inside the crime scene after Susana signed her consent for a search of her Alden Road apartment. They found both laptops on the kitchen counter. In David’s bedroom, they found blood and what looked like vomit.
While there was no damage to the bookshelf or blood on it, there was blood on the carpet and on part of the bunk beds. There was blood on a pillow, on a baseball shirt, and on a sheet on the bottom bunk. Police also found blood on a shower curtain and on a child-sized pair of tan pants in a closet laundry basket.
Besides the apartment search, court records show a police interview with Cristian Fernandez also happened in the early morning of March 15. The State Attorney’s Office redacted more than two dozen pages of that interview’s transcript, citing a public records law exemption about confessions.
But the records seem to show police had Cristian in a room for at least 90 minutes before ending the interview after 3:30 a.m. They also show he fell asleep at some point while apparently left alone.
“If we do have to try the case, we anticipate significant legal challenges to his interview,” Shirk said Wednesday, while alluding to ongoing plea negotiations.
Cristian’s interview ended at 3:37 a.m. March 15 after an exchange with a detective who walked back into the room.
“It’s time to go, buddy. I need you to stand up, I gotta put these on you,” the detective said.
“I said, ‘I gotta put these on you. Come on, stand up, buddy.”
“Stand up for me. Put your hands behind your back.”
“Turn around that way. There you go. Right here. All right, come on out, let’s go this way.”
Then the detective led Cristian away in handcuffs, kicking off another kind of search for answers in what would become a landmark murder case.