CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The murder trial for the Cleveland man accused of killing a 4-year-old boy is now in the hands of the jury.
Both the prosecution and defense rested their cases Thursday in the trial of Romaine Tolbert.
He’s accused of killing his wife’s 4-year-old godson Eliazar Ruiz.
The couple had been taking care of the child while his mother dealt with the lingering effects of drug addiction.
Ruiz’s remains were found in the yard of a then-vacant home on Cleveland’s West Side in September of 2017.
Tolbert confirmed in court what other witnesses previously testified to, that he was part of the crew restoring the home.
Both Tolbert and Vega were charged with murder, but Vega took a deal with prosecutors earlier this month in exchange for her testimony.
“Eliazar began to throw up or foam at the mouth. [Tolbert] tried to give him CPR, but it appeared Eliazar was already gone,” she said on Wednesday, recalling the story Tolbert gave to her.
“He then decides to bag Eliazar up and take him to Longmead [Avenue] to keep him there so he can figure out his next move,” she recalled.
Her testimony came after months of sticking to the story Tolbert previously told investigators; that they decided the boy needed to go back to his family and that he was dropped off with a friend of the child’s mother.
After more than 30 minutes of discussing the idea with his attorney, Tolbert decided to take the witness stand on his own behalf on Thursday.
His testimony contradicted Vega’s.
He said the child died in Vega’s care in February of 2017.
“I found Joanna being hysterical, crying, and I asked her to calm down and tell me what was wrong. She then escorted me to the basement, where I found Eliazar. He was laying there, lips purple, and he was dead,” Tolbert said.
Ruiz’s body was almost completely decomposed by the time he was found.
The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death a homicide but couldn’t determine the cause.
A forensic anthropologist testified that Ruiz had two broken wrists when he was found; one freshly fractured and the other recently healed.
She said they were likely defensive injuries.
Vega, and other family members, previously testified that Tolbert was the disciplinarian in the family and occasionally hit his children as punishment.
Tolbert said Vega herself had a tendency to “flip out.”
“Scary at times because of the things she would threaten to do,” he said.
“He didn’t have to take the stand and testify and subject himself, but he did. He wasn’t responsible for Eliazar Ruiz’s death. Is he sorry that he’s dead? He is sorry that he’s dead,” defense attorney Ed Vargas said in his closing arguments.
In her final remarks to the jury, Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Anna Faraglia showed the jury an large poster dominated by a portrait of Ruiz.
“This little boy died and he died alone in three garbage bags. No kid in Cuyahoga County deserves that kind of death. And the person responsible is Romaine Tolbert,” she said while pointing to the photo.
“Justice is about juries that come down and however distasteful you may think the word murder is, that is what Romaine Tolbert is guilty of,” Faraglia said. “Hold him responsible. Lies don’t get rewarded. They don’t get rewarded in your home, and they surely don’t get rewarded in the law.”
The jury elected its foreman and will resume deliberations Friday morning.