Crime

Police say this man told them he beat a 14-month-old to death. He may not face charges.

Kenneth Johnson, 30, will not yet face charges after he allegedly confessed to punching a 14-month-old baby, killing him.
Kenneth Johnson, 30, will not yet face charges after he allegedly confessed to punching a 14-month-old baby, killing him. Fresno Police Department

The Fresno County District Attorney declined to file charges Thursday against a Fresno man who police say told them that he punched a 14-month-old in the stomach, killing the infant.

Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said her office referred the case against Kenneth Johnson, 30, back to the Fresno Police Department, which announced his arrest and confession at a news conference Wednesday. Smittcamp said her office was still waiting on final reports, including those from the Fresno County Coroner’s Office.

Johnson told police during a three-hour interview Tuesday night that he punched the baby, José Luis Espinosa, because he was frustrated with José’s crying, police say. The infant’s 20-year-old, live-in baby sitter is Johnson’s girlfriend.

Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said at the news conference that José died from internal trauma.

Dyer offered this statement Thursday night: “The District Attorney’s Office has not requested any further investigative work of our detectives. However, they are requesting further examination by the Coroner’s Office. We remain confident that Kenneth Johnson is responsible for the death of 14-month-old José Espinosa. Fresno Police Department detectives are committed to working closely with the District Attorney’s Office to ensure successful prosecution of this case.”

When a person is arrested, the District Attorney’s Office has 48 hours to file charges.

In a news release sent out Friday, Smittcamp outlined a variety of legal factors that prosecutors must weigh before bringing charges. In bold, underlined type, the district attorney emphasized that “the law requires that there be other evidence of the crime independent of the accused’s statement in order to file criminal charges or obtain a conviction.”

The baby’s mother was in Modesto at the time.

The Fresno Police Department can resubmit a case against Johnson, but he will be out of jail until they do. Johnson’s name was not listed in the Fresno County Jail’s online inmate registry site as of 7:20 p.m. Thursday.

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