Abuse That Spiraled Into Tragedy

Police statements from two defendants shed light on domestic turmoil behind a child’s murder

The September 19 murder of two-year-old Yovany Tellez darkened New York’s reputation as one of America’s safest cities.

In a hellacious episode of drunken rage and repeated beatings, according to investigators, tiny Yovany finally stopped breathing on the floor of an East Harlem apartment, the victim of blunt-force head trauma, a broken leg and a punctured liver at the hands of his mother’s lesbian partner, Carmen Molina, 32.

In police statements obtained by Gay City News, Yovany’s young mother, Zahira Matos, 20, and Molina both candidly describe a relationship marked by domestic abuse, economic hardship and the tragic final chronology of Yovany’s remaining hours alive, during which Matos admits leaving the apartment knowing that Molina was senselessly beating her boy.

Yovany’s fatal odyssey began late last year in Michigan, when his mother, Matos, left the baby’s father, Yovany Tellez, Sr., to start a relationship with Molina, a woman 12 years older. The couple’s move to New York in late 2003 was meant to be the beginning of a better life, away from a man Matos characterizes as “unfaithful,” but Matos describes her partner Molina as having turned physically abusive in recent months.

“I had left Yovany Tellez, which is the father of my kids,” Matos wrote in her police statement. “After that we started dating and everybody had gotten upset because I was with a woman. So we just decided to come to New York to make a better life for us. She’s always been really good with the kids. We never had a problem.”

Before coming to New York with Molina, Matos and Tellez, Sr. had been together for three years. They met through a friend in Wyoming, Michigan, where Matos lived with her mother. According to Tellez, 21, their relationship was rocky, eventually ending last November.

“We weren’t in love no more,” he said in a telephone interview this week. Tellez added that Matos was a good mother and never hit her children.

“She loved everyone of us,” the young father said. “She always provided us with whatever we needed.”

The couple have another child, three-month-old Kimberly, apparently conceived just about the time that Matos met Molina. Kimberly and three-year-old Yahmliz, Matos’ daughter from a previous relationship, are in the custody of child welfare officials. Tellez is currently seeking custody of both children.

Shortly after her break-up with Tellez, Matos started her relationship with Molina. Although they first met in June of 2003 when Molina was visiting her sister, Amparo Molina, it was on her second visit to the town of Wyoming at a Thanksgiving dinner when the two starting talking, and soon after become a couple.

The relationship shocked everyone around them, according to Tellez.

“It was surprising,” said Tellez, who found out about the couple’s New York relocation two weeks after their sudden Michigan departure. “I didn’t approve, but if that what she wanted to do it’s a free country. I was just upset because I didn’t want my kids to grow up in that environment.”

The two women made their home in the East Harlem apartment of Molina’s sister, Iris. According to Matos’ written statement, their move to New York went well at first. Molina worked at a bagel shop while Matos stayed home with the children. They sent money to Matos’ mother in Michigan. But about six months after their arrival, their relationship apparently started to deteriorate as they struggled to potty-train little Yovany.

“It started a couple of months ago when she started hitting my son almost everyday,” Matos wrote. “Whenever I would tell her to stop hitting him, she would yell and say for me to shut up or to get away from her, so I would try to get my son away from her and she would just get mad and walk away.”

Matos describes a more desperate situation just a month before Yovany’s death, in which Molina allegedly complained of being tormented by evil spirits.

“A month ago stuff started to happen like when she was supposedly possessed she would try to choke me and sometimes hit me on my arms, kicking me and pulling my hair,” Matos wrote. “She would do that to me because I would try to stop her and she would tell me for me not to touch her and to get away from her. This would happen two to three times a week. She would do that when she was drinking.”

In a remarkably candid police statement, Molina admits hitting Yovany, whom she called “Papo,” on the night of his murder, although she makes no mention of any abuse towards Matos.

“I punched Papo on his right side,” wrote Molina. “I punched him a second time and Papo fell in the tub. Papo hit himself on his forehead. I picked Papo up and saw a lump and bruise on his forehead. Papo was crying. I felt bad.” Molina also describes consuming four 22-ounce containers of malt liquor mixed with Hennessy.

“I had been drinking since early and had a little bit of food,” she wrote. “By that time I felt high. I felt nausea and threw up.”

According to police reports, Yovany had approximately 60 bruises on his head, torso, and legs, as well as three rib fractures, a broken leg and an injury to the liver. Matos, who had been in and out of their apartment to buy alcohol and to make use of a pay phone to call her mother and Molina’s mother, came back to find Yovany’s leg broken. As she describes in her statement, Matos went back out to the pharmacy before it closed at 8 p.m. to buy a bandage. Upon her return, the two women fashioned a brace for Yovany’s leg from a wooden slat of his crib.

However, the toddler’s suffering did not end. Shortly after putting the children to bed, Yovany began to cry and upon checking on him, Matos found blood and stool all over the blanket and the wall. Then, Yovany stopped breathing and as Molina attempted to perform CPR, Matos went to her neighbors and called 911.

Matos’ statement also reveals that before the police arrived, the women did their best to hide evidence of the beating, putting the bloody wipes she had used on her son, along with the leg brace and bandages, into a bag Matos threw into the hallway. Molina then allegedly demanded that Matos lie and explain she was inside with the children while Molina was out.

Matos, whom court papers show to be a possible suicide risk, describes desperately wanting to leave New York and return to her mother in Michigan prior to Yovany’s death. In her statement she describes a telephone call to her mother.

“A month ago I had called my mother in Michigan telling her that I didn’t want to be here in New York anymore because things were happening like [Molina] would try to choke me and stuff whenever she was possessed and I told her that I was tired and scared that something would happen to the kids,” she wrote.

But Matos called her mother on September 18, the day before Yovany’s murder, only to say that things were fine.

“I think my mom knew something was wrong even though [I] sounded okay on the phone,” she wrote. “But how was I gonna go when I don’t have any money. If I had the money I would have left already. I wasn’t gonna go to the street because I don’t know anybody in New York for me to stay somewhere. If I had somewhere else to [go] I would have left without her knowing.”

Prosecutors have charged Matos and Molina, who are being held without bail, each with two counts of murder in the second degree and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. At her most recent court hearing on October 13, Matos entered a not guilty plea.

However, according to Tellez, both his former girlfriend and her partner are equally responsible.

“I think it was both of them,” the grieving father said, before adding that he hopes they remain in jail. Referring to Matos, he said, “I honestly don’t care what happens to her. I lost my son. I don’t care what happens.”

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