MAYVILLE – A Chautauqua County Jury found the man accused of murdering a 16-month-old girl in April 2014 not guilty of all charges against him Monday afternoon.
WNYNewsNow’s Matt Hummel reports the jury deliberated for around 35 minutes before coming to their decision.
Perez was indicted on second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in March in the death of 16-month-old Nayla Hodnett.
Public Defender Ned Barone, who is representing Perez, rested his case earlier in the day. Both Barone and Assistant District Attorney Michael Flaherty then gave their closing arguments.
Barone did not call any witnesses to the stand.
Barone spoke with reporters following the announcement. He said his office worked well throughout the case.
“A feeling of relief more than anyting else, because we really were in a situation where we believed in our case, we believed in our defense,” Barone said. “I had a tremendous team of attorneys and investigators working with me on this. We were confident about things.”
“More than anything else, we felt frustrated because this case got to this point based on, what we believe, next to nothing as far as evidence is concerned.”
Barone detailed how he believes the situation was “extremely frustrating” and “frightening” based on minimal evidence.
“The system worked. The jury worked, the system worked, the jury did their job,” Barone said. “They were courageous, regardless of anything that was said in the community. They did their job. They based it on the lack of evidence, the lack of the District Attorney establishing proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Barone explained that Perez was extremely “ecstatic” with the outcome, which was seen both inside and outside the courtroom. Perez was observed crying after the jury announced a not guilty verdict on both counts and, during Barone’s interview with reporters, yelled, “Not guilty!”
Barone did stress, however, that the defense hasn’t lost sight of the fact an infant was killed.
Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson, following the hearing, released the following quote to reporters:
“While I disagree with the jury’s decision, I have tremendous respect for their work and the legal process.”
“Michael Flaherty worked tirelessly on this case, and I hope his hard work is appreciated even if he was not able to secure a guilty verdict. We knew this case would be difficult from the beginning. We believed in it, but it was always going to be difficult.”
Hodnett’s mother, Angel testified that her infant seemed “her regular self” just before she took a 10-15 minute walk to the store. Prosecutors argue that Perez allegedly committed the crime while Hodnett was on her walk.
The mother later discovered that Nayla threw up in her bed and assumed that she had the flu because one of her brothers had the flu around the time of her death.
Angel Hodnett further explained that she, along with other family members, brought Nayla to WCA Hospital before she was taken to Buffalo Children’s Hospital where she later died.
Dr. Tara Mahar, the Chief Medical Examiner for Erie County, testified that during the 16-month-old’s autopsy she found a number of external injuries that she said were the result of blunt force trauma.
Mahar testified that Hodnett sustained anywhere from 6-12 injuries that didn’t result from medical attention received at Buffalo Women and Children’s Hospital. The medical examiner additionally stated that the injuries were sustained “fairly” recent, time wise, in relation to Hodnett’s death.
For full trial coverage visit WNYNewsNow.com/category/courts/hodnettmurdertrial.
WNYNewsNow’s Matt Hummel contributed to this report.