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Decision to Pull Ventilator Ends Life of Beaten Baby

Christopher Ibarra's father, the accused, had opposed the action and could now face murder charges in a nationally watched case.

May 12, 2003|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

Christopher Ibarra, the infant who had been in a coma for more than a year after his father allegedly beat him, died this weekend, 45 minutes after being taken off a ventilator.

Christopher's death means that Moises Ibarra, who has been fighting to keep his son on life support, could be charged with murder. He is currently facing child abuse charges.

The Orange County coroner's office said it will conduct an autopsy today.

Christopher's tragic 20 months of life ended Saturday morning at the HealthBridge Children's Rehabilitation Hospital in Orange, where he had been receiving care. At 6:30 a.m., per a judge's order, Christopher's life support was removed. He died at 7:15 a.m., said Deputy Coroner Rod Thomas.

The district attorney's office could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Christopher's case drew national attention, as his parents fought over his fate in court. For 16 months, his mother, Tamara Sepulveda, asked the hospital to disconnect life support so Christopher could "go to heaven." His father fought to keep him hooked up to the ventilator and feeding tube, knowing his son's death could lead to a murder charge.

Attorneys and medical ethicists said Christopher's case was one in which the law offered no easy answers. Courts generally allow parents to decide their child's medical treatment, but that might not be the best scenario when the fate of one of them could be affected, they said.

The dispute about the baby's future landed in Juvenile Court, where a judge took custody away from the parents, finding that the father was probably responsible for the baby's injuries and that the mother had not done enough to prevent them.

Adding to the unusual circumstances, the judge opened the hearing to the public, even though most Juvenile Court hearings are held behind closed doors to protect the privacy of minors.

The judge also ruled that Sepulveda was incapable of deciding whether her son should live or die and assigned attorneys to look after Christopher's interests.

In October, the judge granted the mother's request but postponed signing an order until Ibarra took the case to the state 4th District Court of Appeal. That panel ordered in February that Christopher be removed from life support and wished him "peace and serenity."

The California Supreme Court declined to enter the case, and Ibarra decided not to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for a hearing.

The baby was born in September 2001. He suffered brain injuries three months later, authorities alleged, after Ibarra violently shook him, beat him and threw him against the crib in the family's Cypress apartment.

Doctors said he would not recover from his vegetative state and could remain alive only if tethered to life support equipment.

At a hearing last year, doctors said the boy's bones had become so brittle that they had broken during such routine tasks as diaper changes. They also said he could feel pain.

Ibarra and Sepulveda, both 24, met a few years ago while living on boats in a gritty marina beneath the Terminal Island Freeway near the Port of Los Angeles. The couple had a stormy relationship, breaking up after loud arguments only to get back together.

Christopher was born as Sepulveda sat on a toilet in the couple's apartment, according to a Social Services report. The couple's arguments worsened after the child was born. Often, Sepulveda said, the subject of their squabbling was the rough way she thought Ibarra was treating their son.

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