New attorneys will represent Rogers man accused of murder in death of 2-year-old boy

Gustavo Enrique Peraza
Gustavo Enrique Peraza

BENTONVILLE -- New attorneys will represent a Rogers man accused of killing a toddler.

Little Rock attorneys Bill James and Birc Morledge appeared with Gustavo Peraza during an attorney status hearing Tuesday in Circuit Judge Brad Karren's courtroom.

Peraza, 31, has pleaded not guilty to capital murder and battery in connection with the 2021 death of 2-year-old Ryland McDonald. Peraza is being held without bond in the Benton County Jail.

James said after the hearing he and Morledge have not had a chance to read the case file. An omnibus hearing was set for 8:30 a.m. April 10.

In October, Karren allowed Peraza's previous attorneys to withdraw from the case.

Aaron Cash, one of Peraza's attorneys, cited his involvement in lawsuits involving Brian Hyatt, a Rogers doctor charged with two counts of felony Medicaid fraud in Pulaski County, as a reason. Cash said in October he represented 100 people in civil actions against Hyatt.

Matthew Bender, another of Peraza's attorneys, requested to withdraw because he has moved to Topeka, Kan.

Karren also allowed Alicia Canfield, Peraza's third attorney, to withdraw since she is not qualified to handle a capital case.

James and Morledge were appointed by the Arkansas Public Defenders Commission.

Peraza was the boyfriend of Breyana Sawyer, Ryland's mother, according to court documents. He babysat the boy while Sawyer worked, documents state. Ryland died Aug. 24, 2021.

Mercy Medical Center in Rogers notified police of Ryland's death. Trauma to the stomach injured the boy's intestines, which led to a serious infection that caused his death, according to a probable cause affidavit.

A doctor told police the type of injury Ryland suffered is typically caused by a punch or kick to a child's abdomen and is typically inflicted within a week of death, the affidavit states.

Prosecutors haven't waived the death penalty in Peraza's case. If convicted of capital murder, he could be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without the benefit of parole.

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