Aaron Moton, who police said killed 2-year-old Xander Villalobos with a crushing blow to his belly, was found guilty Friday of second-degree murder and assault on a child causing death.
The 25-year-old Moton reacted with little emotion while several of his supporters in the audience angrily stormed out of Judge Jonathan Conklin’s courtroom in Fresno.
Moton faces up to 25-years-to-life in prison; sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 23.
Across the aisle, nearly 20 of Xander’s relatives cried tears of joy. Among them was the child’s mother and Moton’s ex-girlfriend, Nikkey Rojas.
Rojas said she felt as though Xander’s father, who died of cancer in 2020, was watching over him on Friday.
“Now he can finally rest in peace and we can start to get some closure,” she said through tears. “I feel like everything has been at a standstill for two years and we can now finally start grieving.”
Child killed days before turning 3
Xander Villalobos was killed Oct. 5, 2021, three days shy of his third birthday. Although there were no witnesses, police accused Moton of fatally striking the child so severely that he ripped Xander’s liver in half and ruptured his vertebrae.
Moton and Rojas were in their west-central apartment that afternoon. Rojas left for about 10 minutes to pick up a pair of Xander’s shoes from her sister, Kelli Rojas. During those few minutes, detectives said, Moton, for unknown reasons, caused the fatal blow to the child.
When Rojas returned to the apartment, she discovered the boy was extremely listless and having difficulty breathing. He was taken to Community Regional Medical Center where he later died.
Convicted man had violent past
Prosecutor Amy Cobb convinced the jury there could have been only one person to blame for Xander’s death. And that was Moton.
She introduced evidence showing Moton had a violent past, including a 2019 conviction for battery and testimony from an ex-girlfriend who accused him of choking her. Moton’s statements to police, including to Detective Ryan Rockwell, the lead investigator, were also inconsistent.
Cobb thanked the jury Friday for their work and attention to the facts. The jury returned its verdict at about 10 a.m. after nearly five hours of deliberating.
“Xander’s case has touched many hearts,” Cobb said. “This verdict means justice has been done for him and his family. Thank you to the Fresno Police Department for their tireless work on this case.”
Moton was defended by Jennifer Mele and Scott Kinney. During his closing arguments, Kinney tried to shift the blame for Xander’s death to the mother, who was an early suspect in the death and later cleared.
Xander’s family reaction to murder conviction
Adding to the speculation about the mother were autopsy photos showing bruises on Xander’s body that she explained were from rough play with older cousins.
“It was hard to hear someone say that I was a bad mom, but I know the truth and I had to see this through for my son,” Nikkey Rojas said.
After the hearing, Xander’s family members planned to gather at his gravesite at Belmont Memorial Park. Nikkey Rojas’s mother, Elaine Rojas, said Xander was the youngest of her 15 grandchildren and she misses him everyday.
“I know nothing will bring him back, but at least we got justice for my grandson,” Elaine Rojas said.