Defense attorneys in the cases against Brianne Escamilla and Matthew Urias, who are accused of killing 5-year-old Emily Canales, squared off not against the prosecution but each other in an abnormal preliminary hearing Thursday.
During the more than eight-hour-long hearing, defense attorneys attempted to convince 4th Judicial District Judge Marcus Henson that their client was less responsible for the young girl’s death, and thus shouldn’t be held without bond and not be charged with first-degree murder.
Canales is the daughter of Escamilla, 27, who was living with her and Escamilla’s boyfriend Urias, 27, at the time of her death in January.
The couple weren’t arrested for Canales’ death until June, when a report from the coroner’s office was complete that indicating homicide was the cause.
An affidavit acquired by The Gazette detailed the abuse suffered by Canales, and the significant and obvious decline in her health in the days leading up to her death.
Despite Urias and Escamilla recognizing Canales was acting strangely and saying she was not feeling well in the days leading up to her death, neither called 911 until she died on Jan. 13.
Four witnesses took the stand Thursday to present evidence to the court that Canales’ death was a result of the extensive physical abuse she suffered.
The defense attorneys for both Urias and Escamilla did not argue over the findings that physical abuse led to the death of Canales, but rather that the other defendant was the one primarily responsible for the child’s death.
The defense attorneys for Urias argued during cross-examination of the witnesses that Escamilla was the primary abuser in the household, and that Canales viewed Urias as more of a parental figure than her own mother, Escamilla.
Those claims stem from Urias’ interview with Colorado Springs Police Department detective Scott Warren, who was one of the prosecution’s witnesses. In the interview with Warren, Urias claimed that Escamilla was the primary abuser, stating that she would often hit her child in the head, even leading to her knocking her head against the bathroom counter just days before her death.
Warren testified that Urias told him “this happens all the time,” in reference to Escamilla hitting Canales in the head.
During the testimony of Warren, he stated that Urias approached his brother and sister-in-law months before Canales’ death to find an alternative to physical punishment for Canales because it made him uncomfortable.
It was also pointed out by the defense at the conclusion of the hearing that Urias told Warren that he had been the one attempting to persuade Escamilla to call 911 the day before Canales death, but Escamilla refused because she thought her daughter was being “dramatic.”
The defense for Escamilla, however, argued that Urias had serious anger management issues and that there was evidence proving Urias was an abuser of not just Canales, but Escamilla, as well.
The defense team for Escamilla pointed to an October 2021 incident that had Urias accused of two counts of misdemeanor domestic violence charges, tampering and harassment.
Court records show that Urias has not been convicted in this case at this time.
Escamilla’s defense attorneys even called in a witness of their own, CSPD detective Rebecca Joines, a very uncommon occurrence from defense attorneys during a preliminary hearing.
Joines testified that she had spoken with a former neighbor of the couple who stated that on several occasions in 2021 they could hear Urias screaming at people in their apartment.
On one occasion, Joines stated that the neighbor could hear Canales yelling “help” and “stop” over and over again as well as Escamilla yelling “please stop.”
The prosecution’s stance was that despite both parties’ substantial efforts to implicate the other defendant, both defendants had admitted to at least some level of physical abuse against Canales; and that the extensive level of injuries suffered by the young girl meant both were responsible and should be charged with first-degree murder as a result.
This was cooperated by Emily Russell, a forensic pathologist with the El Paso County Coroner’s Office. Russell testified that it wasn’t one specific hit or injury that led to Canales’ death, but rather the cumulation of all of her injuries.
Russell testified that Canales had bruises all over her head, back, shoulders, stomach, arms, buttocks, thigh, knees and foot. Additionally, Russell stated there was also significant internal bleeding, several broken ribs, a punctured pancreas and brain damage.
Russell testified there was “absolutely no way” for those injuries to be self-inflicted, something Urias and Escamilla claimed may have been the case in interviews with detectives.
At the end of the hearing, Henson agreed with the prosecution and found that the extent of the injuries suffered by Canales means that although law enforcement isn’t sure which specific injury caused her death, there’s probable cause to continue to have all charges bound over to trial.
Urias and Escamilla are facing charges of first-degree murder, child abuse causing death and two counts of child abuse knowingly causing death. The charge of first-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison .
Henson additionally found that there was enough evidence presented to continue to hold Urias and Escamilla in El Paso County jail on no bond.
The couple will return to court on Nov. 1 for an arraignment hearing, where each defendant can enter a plea on all charges .