Travis Soto (left) sits with defense attorney Bill Kluge during a pretrial session last Thursday. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)
Travis Soto (left) sits with defense attorney Bill Kluge during a pretrial session last Thursday. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)

OTTAWA — Nearly four-and-a-half years after a former Continental man allegedly confessed to beating his two-year-old son to death, a jury trial date in the matter is set to begin on March 29, 2021.

The long, bizarre journey to that date began in 2006 when Travis Soto, 34, was arrested following the death of his son, Julio Soto-Baldazo. At the time authorities were led to believe the child died in a tragic ATV accident. Soto was indicted on a charge of involuntary manslaughter, but, in a deal with the State of Ohio, pleaded guilty to child endangerment. Soto was sentenced to, and served, a five-year term in prison on the charge.

Then, in July of 2016, ten years after the event and five years after his release from prison, Soto voluntarily entered the Putnam County Sheriff’s office and allegedly confessed to a more direct role in his son’s death, in what former interim Sheriff Tim Meyer described as an effort to “get right with God.”

According to statements made by Putnam County Prosecutor Gary Lammers in a variety of courts, Soto allegedly beat the child to death, then staged the ATV accident. A grand jury subsequently issued a five count indictment: aggravated murder, murder, kidnapping, felonious assault, and tampering with evidence.

In the course of the matter to date, Soto first sought and was denied an incompetency defense. Soto’s attorney at the time, Joseph Benavidez, then petitioned the court to dismiss the aggravated murder and murder charges based on double jeopardy.

Intitially denied by then Putnam County Common Pleas Judge Randall Basinger, the double jeopardy motion was appealed to and affirmed by Ohio’s 3rd District Court of Appeals. Prosecutor Lammers appealed the Appeals Court decision to the Ohio Supreme Court, justices of which supported Lammers effort and returned the case to Putnam County.

Having dismissed Benavidez as his representation, the defense team of William Kluge and Robert Grzybowski, along with attorneys from the Ohio Public Defenders Office and the Cleveland-based law firm Paul W. Flowers Co, LPA, appealed the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case garnered some little national attention from a slew of public defenders who weighed in on the matter, submitting support briefs to the nation’s highest court.

Despite that input, in June of last year, justices of the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, and the matter was again returned to Putnam County.

Current Common Pleas Court Judge Keith Schierloh set the dates for the three-day trial last Thursday, as well as a final pretrial, scheduled for March 8.