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Grants Pass man admits to abusing toddler after hearing his own confession

After hearing an audio recording of his own confession to police, a Grants Pass man accused of assaulting his girlfriend's 2-year-old son in December 2013 suddenly pleaded guilty Wednesday to all the charges against him, ending his trial.

Paul Reyes, 28, pleaded guilty to first-degree assault, third-degree assault and two counts of criminal mistreatment. The first-degree assault conviction carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 71/2 years in prison under Oregon law. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

The plea came at the end of an afternoon break in the trial, just after Josephine County Deputy District Attorney Ryan Mulkins played a recording of Reyes tearfully confessing to Oregon State Police investigators that he hit the child in the head twice with his hand because he was angry.

Mulkins told the court Reyes assaulted the child once in early December and then again on Dec. 11, the day his then-live-in girlfriend, Kayla Allee, got a text message from Reyes while she was at work in which Reyes declared his love for her and told her that her son had gotten hurt when the dog knocked him over. He later told investigators the same story before admitting under subsequent questioning that he struck the toddler.

Reyes, who was unemployed and attending Rogue Community College, said in the confession that he hit the boy the first time because he wouldn't quiet down at bedtime.

"He just cried … I didn't even know what to do because I was in so much shock," Reyes said. He told police he couldn't believe what he had done.

The second time, he said, the boy was simply sitting on the couch smiling at him as Reyes battled his own anger issues.

"I was trying so hard to relinquish my anger, I was trying so hard," he sobbed in the interview.

He told police Allee would take him on trips to the coast and elsewhere to try to get him in a better mood, but that nothing worked.

After the first incident, the toddler suffered a hematoma and swelling on the back of his head. He was examined at the hospital and doctors — unaware of the true nature of the injury — allowed him to go home. The second time, the child ended up seizing up in the middle of the night afterward. He was rushed to the Asante Three Rivers Medical Center emergency room, and then transferred to Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland. He was unconscious when he arrived there.

The boy continues to suffer from his injuries — his left leg is stiff and he walks with a limp; he can't bend his left elbow or move his left hand; and he has lost some peripheral vision.

As they listened to Reyes' description of the abuse on Wednesday, Allee and her mother, Shari Stading, sniffled and wiped away tears.

The guilty plea brought them great relief, Stading said.

"The recovery of my grandson has been difficult and painful," she wrote in an email to the Grants Pass Daily Courier. "The actions of Mr. Reyes have altered his life forever. We are very happy that Reyes has finally pleaded guilty to all the charges against him. The community has been extremely supportive and we thank everyone."

Mulkins said the odds were stacked against Reyes because of the strong case against him. During the first day of the nonjury bench trial on Tuesday, defense attorney Deborah Cumming had focused on the possibility that the boy was injured by someone else or during other incidents he was involved in, such as a minor car accident or a fall from a child chair.

"The writing was on the wall, the evidence was overwhelming," Mulkins said.

Reach reporter Melissa McRobbie at 541-474-3806 or mmcrobbie@thedailycourier.com.

Paul Reyes