John Vigil pleads guilty to fatal child abuse case after years in mental hospital

In November 2008, Elijah Archuleta, age two, died due in large part to burns covering 75 percent of his body -- and his mother, Isela Reyes-Talamantes, received a twenty-year sentence for her role in his death circa March 2010.

Why, then, did it take until the past few days for John Vigil, Reyes-Talamantes' boyfriend, to formally admit to actually causing little Elijah's injuries? Because he's been in the state mental hospital for years and not considered competent to enter a plea.

"He was repeatedly declared incompetent to stand trial," says Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney's Office. "He's been at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo -- but last week, after all these many years, it was declared that he had been restored to competency."

As such, he can finally be punished for actions detailed in the original probable-cause statement in the matter, which, according to Kimbrough, had been sealed until Vigil pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death on Friday. It's on view below in its entirety -- and the details contained within it are absolutely disturbing.

At about 11:45 p.m. on November 7, 2008, the report notes, a Denver police detective was called to St. Anthony's Central Hospital at its previous location, 4231 West 16th Avenue, to investigate Elijah's death. The boy, wrapped in a blanket and clad only in a diaper, had been brought to the facility by Reyes-Talamantes and Vigil, and medical personnel soon determined that he had severe burns and was not breathing. He'd been pronounced dead less than an hour earlier.

A triage nurse subsequently recounted his conversation with Vigil and Reyes-Talamantes. When asked about the shocking injuries, Vigil said the child had burned himself the previous day by accidentally turning hot water on himself while in the bathtub. But he added that the actual reason they'd brought him to the hospital was because he had been choking.

The nurse noted that Elijah also had a black eye.

Around that same time, officers were dispatched to the family's home, located at 925 South Osage. There, they interviewed a slew of residents -- four adults and six children. Among them was a four-year old sibling of Elijah's, who told a forensic interviewer that Vigil had burned the child. The sibling also recalled the boy being on the floor and choking, adding that "John John was mad at mommy...because mommy was crying because Elijah had died."

The next day, Reyes-Talamantes sat down with a detective. She claimed that the couple had gone shopping at Walmart, Chipotle and Best Buy, after which Vigil had gone to what she referred to a "court thing." Then they returned home, and Vigil gave Elijah a bath while she listened to music in another room. A short time later, he reemerged with Elijah, who he said had burned himself after turning on the hot water in the tub. He reassured her that the boy would be fine, she went on, and applied burn lotion to his seared skin. But when the child stopped breathing, they rushed him to the hospital.

The timeline, which suggested that the scalding incident had taken place only a short time before the trip to St. Anthony's, contradicted the statement by the nurse, who'd been told the burns had happened the previous day. When confronted about this disconnect, Reyes-Talamantes changed her story.

Continue for more about this tragic case, including full-size booking photos and the probable-cause statement. In the second version of her account, Reyes-Talamantes said she'd gotten off work at around 1:20 p.m. the previous afternoon, and when Vigil picked her up in an SUV, she could sense that something was wrong with Elijah. Vigil told her that the boy had reached for a sponge toy, but turned on the hot water and scalded himself.

And where was Vigil at the time? "Outside," according to Reyes-Talamantes.

Because Elijah was fully dressed, his mom said she could only see redness on his hands and face. And so she and Vigil, with Elijah in tow, went on about their day. They drove to a bank, where she withdrew $600. They filled up the SUV at a gas station. They headed to the aforementioned "court thing." And afterward, they dropped by a Walgreens and bought burn lotion -- something she'd previously said had already been at the house. But Vigil only put the lotion on Elijah's face before they continued with their shopping trip -- a visit to Chipotle, then to Walmart to buy Lunchables, chips and sliced turkey.

During all of these stops, Reyes-Talamantes said Elijah was "calm." But after they returned home and Vigil undressed the boy, she finally saw the extent of his injuries and suggested that they take him to the hospital.

At first, she told investigators, Vigil said he could treat the child's ailments himself. But he eventually acquiesced, and after dropping off someone at the home of his mother, they drove to St. Anthony's, armed with a story to make the length of time they'd taken to get care for him seem less egregious.

Both Vigil and Reyes-Talamantes were charged with child abuse, and the latter soon pleaded guilty. In March 2010, she was sentenced to twenty years behind bars for her neglectful actions, with a release from the Denver DA's office announcing that Vigil would be put on trial later that year. But that court date was delayed, as were others, due to his placement in the state mental hospital.

"It was set several times for a status," recalls DA's office spokeswoman Kimbrough. "But then a report would come back that he was still incompetent to proceed."

Finally, a week ago today, this diagnosis changed. "After years of being ruled incompetent, he was determined to be restored to competency," Kimbrough notes. "And we were able to negotiate a guilty plea."

Vigil is due in court on May 9 for sentencing, and he could receive up to 36 years -- in jail, not a mental facility.

Look below to see Vigil's mug shot and another booking photo for Reyes-Talamantes, followed by the probable cause statement.

John Vigil and Isela Reyes-Talamantes Probable Cause Statement

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Isela Reyes-Talamantes gets twenty years for lying about "tortured death" of two-year-old son."

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.