Father maintains innocence behind bars after murder conviction

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A father, convicted of abuse and murder of a four-year-old he was taking care of, maintains his innocence along with his family and the boy's mother.

Earlier this month Elis Nelson Ortiz was convicted of the murder and first-degree child abuse of 4-year-old Giovanni Mejias, his girlfriend's son who he was living with and taking care of at the time in June.

"I love them and I’m going to continue to fight because I know I didn’t murder Giovanni period," said Ortiz to FOX 17 by jailhouse interview Thursday. "I didn’t abuse him and I can take a lie detector test like I told them. I don’t have nothing to hide."

A father of three, uncle and caretaker of several children over the years, Ortiz says he's fighting for his life from behind bars, awaiting his sentencing Jan. 11.

"All I did was wake up to this situation and try to help him," Ortiz said of the day Mejias died.

In June Ortiz was home with seven children, including his girlfriend Sonja Hernandez's child Mejias. When he woke up he says he found Mejias unresponsive with serious stomach bloating. The medical examiner later ruled Mejias' death a homicide from fatal abdomen injuries, adding the boy had several older injuries like bruising and fractured ribs.

"Here [Mejias] is sleeping with him," said Ortiz's mother Nancy  Nieves while showing a picture of Mejias sleeping and hugging Ortiz. "A kid that's getting hurt by somebody sleeps like that?"

Sharing pictures of Ortiz and Mejias and his children with FOX 17, Nieves and her husband say Ortiz is innocent. She says some of the injuries found on Mejias, like his fractured ribs, happened before Ortiz lived with Mejias and Hernandez; Ortiz was in jail for parole violation.

"[Ortiz] has a good heart, he loves children," said Nieves. "And if I had the least doubt in my heart, or if I would have noticed anything of his character, I wouldn’t be defending him."

She agrees with her son that his trial was "unfair," citing the fact that his jury pool was 96 percent white. She questions why CPS did not take care of cases between Mejias' biological parents since 2008.

"This is like a nightmare for me right now," said Nieves. "I don’t think I can get over this, but yes, they didn’t let his witnesses explain how he really is," she said in tears referring to trial.

Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Laura Clifton who handled this case responded to FOX 17 writing in part:

“The medical evidence was uncontested at trial… Although Giovanni’s mother was ruled out as a suspect in the murder of her son due to her being at work that day, Giovanni had numerous older unexplained injuries (bruising from head to toe, front to back, two fractured ribs, subdural hematoma to his head, and a stomach injury) in different stages of healing.  The children testified at trial that both their mother and Mr. Ortiz would beat, kick, and whip them.  Given the evidence of her participation in the children’s abuse and her continued denial in her role in the abuse and the failure to protect Giovanni, it is no surprise that Sonja Hernandez would align herself with the convicted murderer of her child.”

Ortiz disagrees and says he will continue to fight.

"I love my kids," he said. "I’m going to continue to fight and I’m going to continue to try to get heard and see if somebody can help me, but daddy’s going to try to come home whenever he can."

“Sonja’s kids, you know I’m not mad at them for what they said because they’re kids. I'm always going to love them."

Nieves along with loved ones are fundraising to hire a new attorney to appeal his case. They are accepting donations at Fifth Third Bank under the savings account for Nancy Nieves, Ortiz's mother.

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