- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - An Albuquerque man accused of beating and raping his girlfriend’s 4-month-old daughter will face more serious charges now that the infant has died, police said Monday.

The child died Sunday after spending two weeks on life support. Doctors determined she had suffered brain damage. The child was found with bruises and red marks on her face after authorities responded to the family’s home Feb. 7.

Authorities arrested Elijah Fernandez, 19, earlier this month on charges of child abuse resulting in great bodily harm and aggravated criminal sexual penetration.

Albuquerque Police Officer Tasia Martinez said Fernandez now faces a charge of child abuse resulting in death.

Court records show an attorney has yet to be appointed for Fernandez, who was being held Monday at the Metropolitan Detention Center on $100,000 bond.

Fernandez admitted to hitting the baby in the face because he was stressed about not having money and was angered by her crying, police said. In a criminal complaint, investigators said they suspected Fernandez was likely under the influence of the drug Spice, a synthetic form of marijuana, when he abused the girl.

The infant’s case was among two in recent months that put the spotlight on child abuse and neglect in New Mexico, which ranks last in child well-being and rounds out the nation’s six worst states when it comes to child abuse deaths. Federal statistics show the state reported nearly 80 deaths between 2008 and 2012, but critics have said the numbers for New Mexico and the rest of the nation are severely underestimated.

While measures aimed at making changes to the state Children, Youth and Families Department failed to pass this legislative session, lawmakers have acknowledged that any improvements in New Mexico’s overwhelmed child welfare system will also have to address the root causes of abuse, including poverty, substance abuse and a lack of parental resources.

House Speaker W. Ken Martinez of Grants pointed to the case of the infant and the recent death of a 9-year-old Albuquerque boy who police said was repeatedly kicked by his mother. Following the session, he said the problem needs to be kept in the forefront.

“I don’t want to see any more,” Martinez said of abuse cases. “Will we see more? Yes. Can we do more to intervene? Yes.”

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