Expert witness: Murdered 4-year-old Cleveland boy had defensive injuries when his remains were found

Published: Oct. 27, 2020 at 7:19 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - It was revealed in court Tuesday that a murdered 4-year-old Cleveland boy had broken bones consistent with defending himself when his remains were discovered.

Forensic anthropologist Linda Spurlock, a Kent State professor and consultant to the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office, testified that both of Eliazar Ruiz’s wrists were broken; one had recently healed while the other was freshly fractured when the boy’s body was discovered wrapped in a trash bag in 2017.

Romaine Tolbert is on trial for the murder of Ruiz

He and his wife, Joanna Vega, were entrusted to care for the child while his mother battled addiction and other personal problems.

Vega was the child’s godmother.

She pleaded guilty to several charges, including involuntary manslaughter, in exchange for her testimony against Tolbert.

Vega is expected to take the stand on Wednesday.

While the jury has not heard any testimony as to what happened between the last time the child was seen alive and the discovery of his remains, Spurlock described the injuries as suspicious.

“It’s a defensive injury,” she said. “It’s a reflex.”

“If someone is walking toward us and they’re going to hit us,” she explained to the jury while lifting her arms. “We go like this to shield our face.”

Ruiz’s body was almost completely decomposed when it was found in the yard of a then-vacant home on Cleveland’s West Side.

Witnesses testified that Tolbert was working on the property as part of a restoration crew.

At the objection of defense attorney Ed Vargas, an audio recording from January of 2019 was played in court on Wednesday. Tolbert, Vega and a former bail bonds agent can be heard discussing the case with the agent’s partner over the phone.

In the recording, Tolbert said he and Vega dropped Ruiz off with a friend of the child’s mother, Tiffany Dunlap in December or January of 2016.

But last week, the jury was shown video from a police interview with Tolbert, recorded prior he and his wife being indicted. In that interview, he claims Ruiz was dropped off with Dunlap in November of 2016.

In the police interview, Tolbert said his mother drove him to drop the child off.

Tolbert’s mom, Sandra Coleman, testified last week that never happened. She even admitted that she planned on lying to the grand jury to corroborate her son’s story.

Dunlap died of a drug overdose in the summer of 2017, but some of her family members testified last week.

They all denied that Dunlap ever began caring for Ruiz.

Additionally, they all denied having a prior relationship with both Tolbert and Vega.

Among the other witnesses on Wednesday were Vega’s mother and her two teenaged daughters (Tolbert’s stepchildren).

They all testified that the couple was going through marital problems in the months leading up to the disappearance and discovery of Ruiz’s remains.

One of the daughters said Tolbert occasionally hit her as punishment.

Prosecutors are expected to rest their case on Wednesday.

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