Man sentenced to 60 years for Harlingen toddler’s death

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Jorge Michael Abundez Jr.

A jury on Tuesday was unable to come to a decision on whether a 35-year-old man was guilty of capital murder for the April 2017 death of 2-year-old Katalina Desiree Castaneda.

That jury did, however, convict Jorge Michael Abundez Jr. of injury to a child, Cameron County District Attorney Spokeswoman Marlane Reyna said.

The jury sentenced him to 60 years, Reyna said via text at 2:24 p.m. Tuesday.

Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz said in a statement that the child’s killing was heinous and outrageous.

“The initial claim that the child fell down the stairs was bogus. The loss of Katalina’s life was senseless,” Saenz said. “I am thankful the jury sent the message that this type of behavior is abhorrent and will not be tolerated in Cameron County. We will stand up for abused children in our community.

“May Abundez spend every single second of his sentence knowing that he is experiencing the consequences stemming from his own awful and selfish choices.”

Abundez was arrested after Harlingen police officers responded to the 1800 block of South 3rd St. on April 19, 2017 at about 3:57 p.m. in reference to Castaneda, who had been found unresponsive by her mother after falling down the stairs.

She was taken to Valley Baptist Medical Center where she died.

The child’s mother, Samantha Lee Gonzalez, had stated that the girl fell down the stairs while she was in the bathroom.

Instead of calling 9-1-1, Gonzalez called her mother who said to put rubbing alcohol on the child’s chest in an effort to revive the toddler, who was unconscious and not breathing, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Investigators determined 16 minutes passed before she called authorities and the Harlingen Police Department previously said in a news release that the child died as a result of “blunt force abdominal trauma.”

A doctor also told investigators that Castaneda could have only suffered this injury if she was “punched, kicked, squeezed or stomped with great force to the abdomen.”

In 2018, Harlingen police identified Abundez as a suspect in the case and later charged him with capital murder.

He has remained held in the Cameron County Carrizalez-Rucker Detention Center since July 3, 2018.