Glendale mother, boyfriend arrested in murder of 2-year-old boy

Warning: Details in this story may be disturbing to some readers
Glendale detectives say the boy was covered with bruises throughout his body, including eyes, head, and a noticeable skull fracture.
Published: May. 17, 2023 at 10:18 AM MST|Updated: May. 17, 2023 at 6:39 PM MST
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GLENDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — Glendale police say a mother and her boyfriend have been arrested on first-degree murder charges in the death of her two-year-old son.

Police say they were called just after 10 a.m. Tuesday to an apartment near 60th Avenue and Golden Lane by the boyfriend, identified as Johnny Brazell II, 20, who said his stepson was not breathing and had no pulse. He told the 911 dispatcher that the boy had been attacked by a dog earlier that day and had a gash and bump on his head. Moments later, paramedics arrived and did CPR, but the boy died after arriving at a hospital. Detectives say he was covered with bruises throughout his body, including eyes, head, and a noticeable skull fracture. Investigators say they appeared to be the result of child abuse. However, surveillance video in the area did not match up with the dog attack story.

An arrest report also detailed that detectives found blood stains in the boy’s bedroom, which authorities say appeared much more serious than Brazell had described. Leila Lopez, the mother, reportedly also told police that the toddler had been disciplined in the past, including when the couple lived in California. She also admitted that the boy was whipped, severe enough to cause bursting. Court paperwork revealed that the couple had only lived in the home for about six months.

When speaking to the authorities, Glendale police say that Brazell and Lopez both provided inconsistent statements surrounding how a dog attacked the child. However, in later remarks, Brazell reportedly admitted to killing his child. “[The child] was trying to take down a blanket that was covering a window which is a very common thing for a child to do. Brazell then tried to punish him for that,” said Gina Winn with Glendale Police.

Brazell hit Braxton with a leather belt several times while “dangling him in the air by his leg,” police described. He also allegedly admitted to dropping the toddler on his head onto a hardwood floor. During an interview, Brazell demonstrated how he would violently swing the boy’s head into the corner of a chair, saying that the force used was stronger than was demonstrated using a doll prop.

Gilbert police say Brazell left the home to take another child to a doctor’s appointment. During that time, Lopez did not call 911 even though the child was struggling to breathe. Police say that the two waited for him to stop breathing. Two hours after he died, they called 911, allegedly agreeing to lie to police, paramedics, and the hospital about what happened. The two made up a story that a pitbull attacked the boy, police said. “The story was fabricated between the both of them. They created this plan together as a couple,” Winn said.

Arresting documents detailed that when both were sent to the interview room by themselves, detectives overheard Brazell tell Lopez that he killed the child and that “the story we talked about didn’t work.” Neither suspect showed remorse after their arrest, police noted. Authorities confirmed that neither suspect had a prior criminal history.

Neighbors of the couple said they never expected something like this to happen. “I mean, I instantly got sick. I’m a grandma, my son is approximately the same age, and it’s just horror, absolute horror,” said neighbor Destiny Gilbert. “I can’t imagine anybody doing anything like that to any other human being, especially someone who can’t defend themselves. It’s just not right.”

Both have since been booked on murder and child abuse charges. The Department of Child Safety has taken two other children, identified as a 2-week-old and a 2-year-old, from the home. Authorities believed one of those children is fathered by Brazell. Neither child had any injuries.