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Mom charged with murder of 4-year-old son following conviction for burning body

The Leighton criminal courthouse at 26th and California where Judge Mauricio Araujo was assigned until last year when he was accused of sexual harassment. | Sun-Times file photo.

A mother convicted earlier this year of concealing her 4-year-old son’s death by trying to burn his body has been charged with killing him.

Alyssa Garcia, 29, appeared Thursday at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse for a bail hearing on a charge of first-degree murder in the 2016 death of her son, Manuel “Manny” Aguilar.

Dressed in blue scrubs, Garcia entered the courtroom with her head down and her long hair covering her face. She stood silently before Judge Sophia Atcherson, taking several deep breaths, as Assistant State’s Attorney Jamie Santini detailed at least a year of abuse the boy endured before he died.

The boy’s body was found Aug. 2, 2016, when emergency crews responded to a call of a fire at a vacant building in the 1400 block of West Marquette Road in the Englewood neighborhood, Santini said. Garcia was seen running from the rear of the building and two others — her 17-year-old boyfriend and his 19-year-old brother —were also taken into custody after running from officers at the scene.

Inside the vacant home, authorities discovered Aguilar’s malnourished, decomposed and partially burned body wrapped in a blanket, Santini said. A container of lighter fluid was found nearby. Investigators first believed the boy was a 9-month-old infant because he was so skinny.

Alyssa Garcia | Illinois Department of Corrections
Alyssa Garcia | Illinois Department of Corrections

Garcia was convicted in January of concealment of a death and attempted residential arson, court records show. She is currently serving sentences of three years and five years respectively at the Logan Correctional Center in downstate Lincoln, according to state records. She would be eligible for parole in January 2019.

The boy was kept for about a year in a locked, enclosed porch at their home in the 6400 block of South Wolcott, where Garcia had previously kept a dog before it died, Santini said. The room had no heat or air conditioning and no food or water. Other apartment residents and the boy’s three other siblings who lived at the house described the room as frequently smelling like urine and feces. The boy was kept naked because he would frequently soil himself, authorities said.

He was rarely allowed to eat with the rest of the family and became so skinny his ribs showed, Santini said. Food deprivation was used as a punishment for the boy, as well as beatings with a shoe and a clothes hanger.

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Around July 29, 2016, Garcia found the boy unresponsive and not breathing in the room, Santini said. His 9-year-old brother checked for a heart beat and pulse and determined he had died.

The boy’s body was washed, clothed and wrapped in a blue towel, Santini said, before being placed in the children’s playroom. His body was later put in a plastic shopping bag and put in the trunk of the family’s SUV. Garcia gave birth to premature twins days after Aguilar’s death, but they were not living at the house when detectives began investigating.

On Aug. 2, 2016, Garcia, her boyfriend and his brother took the body to the vacant house, placed it on the basement floor and set it on fire, Santini said. Garcia admitted to authorities she wanted the body destroyed so the state’s Department of Children and Family Services would not take the other children.

The boy’s death was ruled a homicide by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office in September 2016.

The Chicago Sun-Times previously reported that state child protective workers took custody of Manuel in 2012 because of allegations of neglect, but he was returned to Garcia in 2015 after she complied with terms that included attending parenting classes.

A spokeswoman for the agency said Aguilar’s siblings remain under the guardianship of DCFS in foster care.

Christian Camarena, the now 21-year-old brother of Garcia’s boyfriend, pleaded guilty in May to a misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property in the case and was released from custody after receiving credit for time served at the Cook County Jail, according to a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office.

His brother’s case was held in juvenile court, for which court records are not available.

Judge Atcherson denied Garcia bail on the murder charge. If convicted she faces a possible life sentence.

Her next court date was set for July 11.