The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Carlsbad man awaiting trial in child death


Last updated 9/26/2020 at 2:13pm

Samantha Rubino enjoyed coloring and reading books from the library. She also liked writing stories. And she had a vivid imagination.

That information comes from her obituary.

The 8-year-old girl died Aug. 1. Police say her father killed her, then wrapped her body in a plastic bag and placed it in the bottom of a trash bin outside their Carlsbad home.

Juan Lerma, 32, this month pleaded not guilty to a charge of child abuse resulting in death. He is in the Eddy County Detention Center, without bond, waiting a trial date of April 5.

Child victim a Clovis native

Records show Samantha was born in Clovis, where she lived with her mother and other siblings. Her mother died in April, resulting in Samantha and a brother moving in with their father.

Court records show Samantha and Lerma “were not getting along” a few weeks after Samantha moved in.

Esmeralda Lerma, Samantha’s grandmother and the mother of Juan, told police that her son was “going to check on having Samantha placed into foster care.” Esmeralda said she then agreed to let Samantha live with her, but would leave the girl at Juan’s house when she was at work.

Esmeralda Lerma said she went to her son’s house to pick up Samantha on the evening of July 31, but decided to let her spend the night at Juan’s urging. When she returned the next day to pick up Samantha, Juan Lerma told his mother he’d killed the girl and placed her body in a black Suburban under a carport outside the house.

“She said that she immediately told Juan that they needed to call the police at which time Juan told her that if he was going down, she would go down with him,” court records show.

Juan Lerma suggested to his mother that they say Samantha walked away from home “which she has been known to do” and that Juan “would go out somewhere and bury or burn the body,” the records show.

Esmeralda said she “was in shock over the conversation and told Juan she needed to go.”

Esmeralda Lerma then alerted police to the incident and Juan Lerma was arrested and the girl’s body was found in a trash can.

Child’s mother died in April

Records show Samantha and a brother were living with their mother in Clovis when Jennifer Rubino died on April 13.

Circumstances surrounding Jennifer Rubino’s death are not clear.

Her family’s estate last week filed documents with Clovis, Curry County and state officials alleging possible wrongful death.

The tort claim provides notice of potential legal action against the public entities “based on the substandard care provided to Jennifer Rubino by staff and agents of the New Mexico Department of Health in or around April 2020.” The claim also alleges failure to follow proper procedure and protocol when Rubino, 47, reported symptoms that were not considered as COVID risk factors sufficient to warrant admission to a medical facility.

It’s not clear if the claim alleges Rubino died because of some connection to the COVID-19 pandemic. The attorney representing the estate declined comment.

New Mexico health officials have reported five Curry County residents have suffered COVID-19 related deaths, but none of those deaths involved a 47-year-old woman.

Multiple friends and family members declined to discuss Jennifer Rubino or did not respond to requests for interviews.

The Eastern New Mexico News acquired copies of the tort claim through open records requests to the city of Clovis and Curry County.

City, county and state officials declined comment or said they were not clear why they had been included in the court action.

Court records do not address a timeline for the relationship between Jennifer Rubino and Juan Lerma. But in 2010, records show Lerma was charged with aggravated battery, abuse of a child and false imprisonment in Clovis. That followed an incident with Jennifer Rubino and a child.

A criminal complaint alleged Lerma “did restrain or confine” Jennifer Rubino against her will. The complaint also alleged the child’s health was endangered because he had access to a room that contained a controlled substance.

Lerma ultimately pleaded guilty to attempt to commit false imprisonment and use or possession of drug paraphernalia in connection with that case. He served two years probation.

The child abuse charge was dropped. District Attorney Andrea Reeb said last week her records show “uncooperative witnesses” contributed to the decision to drop the child-abuse charge.

Samantha Rubino was born to Jennifer Rubino and Lerma two years after the false-imprisonment incident.

A spokesperson for the New Mexico Children, Families and Youth Department (CYFD) said child abuse charges in 2010 dropped against Juan Lerma didn’t prompt a background check when considered for custody of his two children earlier this year.

Lerma’s court-appointed attorney did not respond to an interview request on Friday.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus contributed to this report.


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