Donna man charged with capital murder in infant’s death

Ubence Ruben Hernandez, 36, reacts tearfully as he is charged with capital murder of a person under 10 years of age at the Donna Municipal Court on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Donna. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Police have charged a Donna man with capital murder in relation to the death of a 1-year-old child, officials announced Wednesday.

Ubence Ruben Hernandez, 36, appeared before Donna Municipal Judge Javier Garza just before 3 p.m. Wednesday on a charge of capital murder of a person under 10 years of age.

Police say Hernandez confessed to killing the infant who, along with three siblings, had been under his care while the children’s mother made a trip to a local store.

“He did confess to the murder,” said Lt. Adrian Hooks, head of the criminal investigations division for Donna police. Hooks added the confession came after Hernandez voluntarily came in for a “for a non-custodial interview.”

But, as he stood before the municipal judge during Wednesday’s bond hearing, Hernandez denied the charges. “Man, I didn’t do this s—, bro,” Hernandez said between sobs.

“This is a very serious crime. I’m gonna set your bond at $750,000,” Garza said before reminding Hernandez that the hearing was only meant to assess bond.

After being advised of his Miranda rights, Hernandez asked to be assigned a defense attorney.

Police allege Hernandez broke the infant’s spine “due to blunt force trauma” while he was watching the children on Sept. 22. They further allege the child may have been subjected to abuse for a prolonged period of time.

“Based on the investigation, the child was injured that day,” Hooks said. “The investigation is still continuing, only because there (are) … certain leads that have come up that there may have been a prolonged abuse of this child by our suspect.”

Hooks said a neighbor who responded to Hernandez’s cry for help attempted to perform CPR on the infant while one of the infant’s siblings called 9-1-1. But before emergency services could be reached, the child’s mother returned to the residence in the 3700 block of East Business 83 in Donna.

The child’s mother then took the infant to Valley Baptist Micro Hospital in Weslaco, but the infant was already deceased, Hooks said.

An autopsy later revealed the child died as the result of “a fractured spine due to blunt force trauma,” according to a news release issued by Donna police.

Asked if the child’s mother would also face charges, Hooks declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation. However, police Chief Gilbert Guerrero said his department is weighing its options.

“We’re gonna go after the mom,” Guerrero said after the bond hearing. “She had to have known something,” Guerrero said regarding the alleged abuse.

The chief added that in his nearly three decades in law enforcement, including stints investigating major crimes for Pharr police, he had never before seen such injuries on a child. “I worked homicides and everything. I’ve never seen a little boy’s back broken like that. Never,” Guerrero said.

Police say Hernandez has a history of violence. Just two days after the child’s death, he was arrested by Weslaco police on a charge of deadly conduct. He was released on a personal recognizance bond later that same day, county records show.

Hernandez pleaded guilty to attempted murder in 2003, for which he was sentenced to five years in state jail.

And in 2002, he pleaded guilty to robbery. His guilty plea on the attempted murder charge led to the revocation of his probation for the robbery charge. As a result, he was ordered to serve three years concurrently with the five years for the attempted murder charge, county records show.

Hooks said investigators are concentrating on collecting as much information as possible about the infant’s death. “The main goal is just justice for this child,” Hooks said.