Travis Soto reviews paperwork with one of his defense attorneys, Robert Grzybowski, prior to Monday's pretrial. Soto faces multiple charges, including aggravated murder and murder - Putnam Sentinel
Travis Soto reviews paperwork with one of his defense attorneys, Robert Grzybowski, prior to Monday's pretrial. Soto faces multiple charges, including aggravated murder and murder. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)

OTTAWA — Accused murderer Travis Soto appeared in Putnam County Common Pleas Court on Monday, Nov. 25. This was Soto’s first appearance since the Ohio Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision preventing the 32-year-old Continental man’s prosecution on aggravated murder and murder charges.

In 2006, Soto pleaded guilty to a charge of child endangerment related to the death of his two-year-old son, Julio Soto-Baldazo. The plea came as the result of a deal with the state wherein an original charge of involuntary manslaughter was reduced. Soto was sentenced to five years incarceration. Then, in July of 2016, five years after serving his full sentence, Soto voluntarily presented himself to law enforcement officers at the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office. At that time he confessed to a more active role in his son’s death. A grand jury subsequently issued a five count indictment: aggravated murder, murder, kidnapping, felonious assault, and tampering with evidence.

Soto’s attorney at the time, Joseph Benavidez, argued double jeopardy protections disallowed the state from pursuing murder charges. A motion to that effect, put forward by Benavidez, was overruled by Judge Randall Basinger. An appeal to that decision was presented to the 3rd District Court of Appeals which sided with the defense, asserting double jeopardy laws did, indeed, protect the defendant in this case.

In April of this year, Putnam County Prosecutor Gary Lammers appealed the 3rd District’s decision to the Ohio Supreme Court, which, earlier this month, overturned the lower court’s decision, thereby permitting the state to move forward with charges of aggravated murder and murder.

During Monday’s perfunctory pretrial, Common Pleas Court Judge Keith Schierloh briefly touched on the double jeopardy issue.

“We’ll note for some house-keeping, this matter was at the Ohio Supreme Court,” Judge Schierloh said. “It has been ruled on and returned back to Putnam County for disposition and further hearings.”

The court raised the issue of a speedy trial waiver previously agreed to by the defendant and his former counsel, and queried Soto’s current attorneys — at present, both William Kluge and Robert Grzybowski — as to whether they wished to move forward with the waiver as understood. Mr. Kluge responded, informing the court they had yet to have such a conversation with Soto, but agreeing, at least for the moment, to the waiver.

Judge Schierloh established a date of Thursday, Dec. 19 at 12:30 p.m., for a status pretrial conference before announcing the hearing in recess.

If convicted, Soto faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison. However, as the victim in this case was under 13 years of age, Prosecutor Lammers has asserted the state has not yet ruled out pursuing the death penalty.