'Justice': Father guilty of 3-year-old daughter's murder; Sentencing set for Nov. 26

On Oct. 1, a jury at the La Paz County Superior Courthouse in Parker, Ariz., found 26-year-old father Aaron Roman Freeman guilty of murder in the first degree of 3-year-old daughter Autumn Shibley. (Loaned photos)

On Oct. 1, a jury at the La Paz County Superior Courthouse in Parker took a little over an hour to find Aaron Roman Freeman, 26, guilty of murder in the first degree of his 3-year-old daughter Autumn Shibley.

The case stems from Freeman’s arrest in 2017 following a La Paz County Sheriff’s Department-led investigation and submitted evidence which included surveillance footage showing physical child abuse actions committed against Shibley at a tire shop in neighboring Ehrenberg on June 10, 2017.

Shibley – who was living with Freeman in Blythe, Calif., at the time – was later admitted to Palo Verde Hospital (PVH), then subsequently transported by ambulance to Loma Linda Children’s Hospital in Loma Linda, Calif., where, on the morning of June 11, 2017, she was pronounced dead at 8:24 a.m.

The medical cause of death was noted as a perforated stomach (acute peritonitis “due to blunt force abdominal injury”) per internal lacerations found in Shibley. As further noted in testimony to the jury by a Riverside County Coroner’s Office forensic pathologist, the manner of death was listed as homicide.

According to court records and testimony, Freeman claimed a family dog to have caused the injuries to Shibley.

“A perforation of (one’s) stomach is extremely rare because it requires a specific type of force. When we were given reports that (Shibley) had a stomach perforation – and given the story that it was potentially caused by a dog – we knew that it was extremely unlikely because these cases are not possible,” stated Loma Linda University Medical Center physician Dr. D. Foulad during the trial’s fourth and final day of testimony. “These cases are usually due to what we call non-accidental trauma – or, assault to a child – (due to) the force required to cause such a perforation is usually something similar to a child being on the ground and someone stomping on them with a significant amount of force. Or being against a wall and being punched or hit with a specific – sledge hammer, or some type of tool – with a large amount of force.”

On day two of the trial, Sept. 25, a June 10, 2017, surveillance video of the tire shop in Ehrenberg was presented to the jury which showed various graphic acts of physical child abuse actions committed by Freeman against Shibley.

A subsequent approximately 10-second long video showing Shibley struggling to stay afloat in a pool, filmed by Freeman at a residence in Blythe, was also shown to the jury.

According to the presented medical report related to Shibley’s documented autopsy, the three-year-old had abrasions and/or contusions of varying degrees on her head, upper lip, right ear, nose, below the chin, right elbow, right arm, lower leg, right foot, and back.

At approximately 1:15 p.m., as delineated and read by the court clerk, the jury’s unanimous verdict was reached and found Freeman to be guilty of the following counts related to the death of Shibley:

• First-degree murder;

• Second-degree murder, a dangerous crime against children (DCAC);

• Child abuse (three counts);

• Aggravated assault;

• And two counts of aggravated assault upon a minor.

Additionally, the jury unanimously found the following three charged aggravating circumstances related to the case to be true:

• The victim’s immediate family suffered emotional harm, proven;

• The victim was a minor child, proven;

• And the victim was the defendant’s daughter, proven.

Freeman was found not guilty on one charged count of child abuse and one charged count of aggravated assault.

“The Blythe Police Department, LPCSO (La Paz County Sheriff’s Office) Detective Johnson, La Paz County Attorney Office staff and Attorney Rachel Shackelford did an excellent job of working together to investigate, build and present this case to the jury,” stated La Paz County District Attorney Tony Rogers to the Times. “The death of a child is a horrifying occurrence which we never want to see again. Child abuse will not be tolerated in La Paz County. And while our success in trial can never mend the broken hearts, the guilty verdict does represent some Justice for little Autumn and her family. My greatest sympathies go out to all affected by this tragedy.”

To date, Shibley’s mother continues to pursue legal custody of her late daughter’s ashes.

“I just want to thank the detectives and the DA (La Paz County District Attorney) for doing their jobs. And the jurors,” said Shibley’s mother Ashly Parrish to the Times, who was in court throughout the trial’s duration. “It was pretty crazy that Aaron did not show any emotions. I’m just glad Autumn got her justice. And I’m glad that Aaron’s going away for a long time – he should have got the death penalty, but I’d be OK with life.”

Freeman’s scheduled sentencing was set by the court to be held on Nov. 26.

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