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Christian Perez, suspect in death of Hayward infant

HAYWARD -- A judge told Christian Perez to "get ready to enter the gates of hell" as he handed down a maximum sentence of 30 years to life in prison for scalding an infant to death and savagely beating a toddler.

Perez, 23, was convicted in January of torture and second-degree murder for the death of 18-month-old Eli Rojas, as well as child abuse charges stemming from the beating of a 2-year-old girl in 2007 that covered her with bruises and laid open her scalp, which needed to be stapled shut.

"If you think what you did to those babies was bad, wait until you get to prison," said Alameda County Superior Court Judge C. Don Clay at the Friday sentencing. "There is nobody in prison who likes and can accept children being hurt in this fashion."

Perez was arrested after Eli was taken to the hospital, scalded from his bellybutton to his toes, after being immersed in water that experts said must have been 150 degrees.

Instead of calling for help, Perez, his sister Patricia Perez and her husband, Jose Gamez, drove several miles around Hayward, going to a drugstore to get burn ointment. They sought medical treatment only when the baby had a seizure "and was obviously dying," prosecutor Stacie Pettigrew said.

Perez had been watching over Eli -- his girlfriend's child -- when the scalding occurred. The baby died two months later at Shriner's Hospital in Sacramento.

Pettigrew said a lack of evidence gave Perez "a pass" after the 2007 baby beating, but "instead of taking that pass, 15 months later he did what he did to Eli."

Jurors -- three of whom returned to court Friday to watch the sentencing -- said photo evidence was unbearable, and Clay said he also had trouble looking at the images in what he called "the most disturbing case I've ever had."

He cited a doctor who, looking at the photos, asked what happened to the first layer of Eli's skin.

"The pink part of Eli, that wasn't skin -- that was the muscle underneath the skin," Clay said.

The judge said after Perez was arrested, he was heard speaking in Spanish to somebody over the phone, asking, "Did you get the stuff out of the trash?"

"That's where the skin went," Clay said. "They peeled his skin off and put it in the trash. That's sick, disgusting and should never happen."

He said Perez committed "cruel, vicious and callous crimes against little babies," called him a liar for testifying that relatives were culpable for the crimes, and said he never accepted responsibility.

Jurors agreed, and said Perez's demeanor throughout the trial never appeared remorseful.

"How do you do it?" asked juror Jim Graydon, who dabbed his eyes during the judge's admonition. "How do you do it and just show no emotion? Those were beautiful little children. I couldn't do that to any animal, and I'm a hunter."

Defense attorney LeRue Grim, who unsuccessfully tried to delay the sentencing on the grounds that unspecified "bizarre information" had recently surfaced, said he "understands, given the circumstances, what the court has to do."

But he added that he would like to see the case result in measures to prevent future tragedies, educating people about "early childhood training, and treating wounds."

Patricia Perez and Gamez entered pleas last year to misdemeanor charges of being accessories after the fact and were sentenced to probation, Pettigrew said.

Perez's mother and Eli's mother both attended the sentencing but declined to comment.

Pettigrew said Eli was an inquisitive and intelligent child who loved playing with his toy tool set, mimicking adults he saw working on projects with a miniature version of the real tool. She said the case struck close to home for everyone involved, including paramedics, doctors, law enforcement officers, jurors and the District Attorney's Office.

"I think of Eli every time I run hot water, burn myself cooking or give my own children a bath," she said. "I will never forget this case, and the jurors will never forget."

Contact Eric Kurhi at 510-293-2473. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi. Read his blog at IBAbuzz.com/hayword.