Babysitter was sentenced for other crimes but served two years while awaiting trial

Rachel Smith

A woman acquitted last month of causing the death of an infant she was babysitting at a Santa Fe motel will serve no additional time for possessing drug paraphernalia and obstructing a police investigation by initially pretending to be the child’s mother.

A judge on Tuesday sentenced Rachel Smith, 27, to just under two years for those crimes. But counting time spent in jail and on electronic monitoring, Smith already had undergone more than two years of incarceration while awaiting trial.

Authorities charged Smith in the 2017 death of 3-month-old Jonathan Valenzuela after medics arrived at the Cerrillos Road motel in response to her frantic 911 call reporting the child was not breathing. Responders found the baby dead.

Smith said at trial she originally claimed to be the child’s mother in order to protect the baby’s teenage mother from getting in trouble.

The boy had no visible injuries, and police initially speculated that Smith — who admitted she used heroin in the bathroom while the boy and his 2-year-old sister slept — may have smothered the child by accidentally rolling over on him. But when an autopsy found the child died of strangulation and blunt force trauma, Smith was charged with child abuse resulting in death.

About a month before the case was set for trial in July, the state got more time to investigate evidence that suggested the child’s mother, Angel Arellano, may have inflicted the child’s fatal injuries. Though prosecutors never charged Arellano and proceeded with their prosecution of Smith, defense attorney Stephen Aarons raised the issue at trial.

Medical examiner Dr. Heather Jarrell testified that in her opinion the infant’s injuries most likely were inflicted during the time he was under Smith’s care, but she acknowledged under cross-examination it was possible the injuries were inflicted much earlier, while the baby was with his mother.

A jury found Smith not guilty of child abuse resulting in death, but convicted her of obstructing an investigation and possession of drug paraphernalia. The maximum penalty for each of those misdemeanors is 364 days in jail.

The child’s mother did not attend the sentencing. Smith declined to comment after the hearing, saying only, “Not right now. I’ve been through enough.”

  • By Phaedra Haywood
  • Reprinted with permission