A California man was sentenced to life in prison without parole Nov. 26 in La Paz County Superior Court. Aaron Freeman, 26, of Blythe, Calif. was convicted Oct. 1 following a trial on nine of 11 counts in the death of his daughter, Autumn Shibley, in June 2017. One of those counts was first degree murder.
The sentence was handed down by visiting Judge Robert Duber of Pinal County. He told Freeman that if he had done to a dog what he did to his daughter, it would be considered horrible.
“Doing it to your own daughter is indescribable,” he said.
Duber said it was clear that Freeman knew what he was doing was wrong.
“I want you to understand I have no doubt when I sentence you,” Duber said to Freeman.
The jury found Shibley was abused by Freeman June 10, 2017 at the tire store in Ehrenberg, Ariz. where he worked. This abuse caused a ruptured stomach, which proved to be fatal. Shibley died in Loma Linda Children’s Hospital the following day.
Shibley was three years old at the time.
The jury found Freeman guilty on nine counts, including first degree murder; second degree murder, a dangerous crime against children; child abuse, a dangerous crime against children for the ruptured stomach; aggravated assault on a minor, a dangerous crime against children for the ruptured stomach; aggravated assault on minor for the ruptured stomach; child abuse for a strike to Shibley’s face; aggravated assault for a strike to Shibley’s face; acting in a criminally negligent manner; and aggravated assault on a minor for smashing Shibley’s hand in a door.
A key piece of evidence at the trial had been a video tape from the tire show that showed much of the abuse, and that it took place over a long period of time. This abuse included slapping Shibley’s face, pulling her around by the hair, and slamming her fingers in a door.
Deputy La Paz County Attorney Rachel Shackelford said this showed a pattern of abuse. She said Freeman could’ve stopped and reconsidered his actions, but he didn’t.
“It (the abuse) got worse,” she said.
Duber said he also saw a pattern of abuse from the video.
“What I saw was a child who was looking for clues as to how to behave,” he said. “She was afraid. She didn’t know what was expected of her. That suggested to me this was not an isolated incident.”
Freeman did not speak on his own behalf. His attorney, Michael Frame, cited his lack of a criminal record as a mitigating factor.
Freeman was indicted on 10 felony counts on Oct. 20, 2017. A plea agreement was reached in late 2018, but the original judge on the case, former La Paz County Superior Court Judge Matthew Newman, said he would not accept it. After Newman left the bench, he was replaced by Duber due to a conflict with the new Superior Court Judge, Jessica Quickle. Duber informed the attorneys, Michael Frame for the defense and Rachel Shackelford for the state, that he would not accept the plea agreement rejected by Newman.
In March 2019, Freeman declared he was rejecting all plea agreements and wanted to go to trial.
At the close of the sentencing hearing, Duber thanked everyone for allowing the proceedings to move along without any major disruptions or disturbances.
“I realize some cases are more emotional than others,” he said.