DAYTONA BEACH — A 4-year-old boy was beaten after his mother claimed he would not learn his colors or his letters, and the injuries the child suffered resulted in his death, a prosecutor said in Wednesday's murder trial opening.
The boyfriend of the dead boy's mother, Joe McCaskell, 37, and Mikkia Shardae Lewis, 27, are charged with first-degree felony murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of Lewis' son Ke’Andre Coleman. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against both of them.
Only McCaskell is on trial before Circuit Judge Matt Foxman at the S. James Foxman Justice Center. Lewis is being tried separately at a later date.
It took more than a week to pick a jury of 11 women and four men to begin hearing testimony Wednesday in the case which is expected to continue at least into next week.
McCaskell sat in a yellow shirt next to his defense attorneys, Ann Finnell, BeJae Shelton and Gonzalo Andux. He sometimes turned to speak to one of the attorneys. At one point he held his hand up to try to shield his face from a photographer.
McCaskell called 9-1-1 about 1 a.m. on April 15, 2013, to report that his girlfriend’s child was not breathing, a report states. When South Daytona police arrived to the small apartment at 1920 S. Palmetto Ave., they found Ke'Andre's bruised body on the floor of a back bedroom. His mother was trying to put pants on him, an officer testified. The child was not breathing and had no heartbeat.
Assistant State Attorney Heatha Trigones, who is prosecuting the case along with Tammy Jaques, said in her opening statement that Ke'Andre had a number of bruises and what appeared to be a shoe imprint on his buttocks. That imprint later matched a shoe investigators seized from the apartment. One of his nipples had been nearly twisted off.
"They beat and punished a 4-year-old little boy until his body gave out," Trigones said.
Investigators also found a piece of a broken belt in the child’s room and the other piece in McCaskell’s room. They found a second piece of a broken belt and nearby a blood-stained towel, Trigones said.
Along with the beatings, Ke'Andre was punished by being forced to maintain positions, like squatting and pushups, for extended periods of time, the prosecutor said.
Trigones also recounted to jurors statements that McCaskell made, including telling Lewis that they didn’t do anything and that the child died in his sleep.
One of McCaskell’s defense attorneys, Shelton, tried to deflect any blame off of McCaskell during her opening statements. Shelton said that Lewis had told McCaskell that when she was behind closed doors with her son in the bedroom he was not to interfere.
"Only hours after her child died you will hear her repeatedly tell investigators what a bad child Ke'Andre was," Shelton said. "How he wouldn't listen to her. He wouldn't learn his colors. He wouldn't learn his letters. You will hear her admit that she spanked Ke'Andre. You will hear admit that she hit Ke'Andre with a belt."
Shelton told jurors the only statement anyone would attribute to McCaskell is that he spanked the child twice on his buttocks with an open hand.
Shelton said McCaskell didn’t want to spank Ke’Andre either but Lewis pressed the issue. She said that McCaskell has five children from a previous relationship and he did not spank them.
The children from the previous relationship did not live with McCaskell and Lewis.
Paramedic Scott Hughes testified under questioning by Jaques that when he arrived at the apartment the child was dead and cold. And he saw the child had suffered various injuries over time.
“The child had numerous wounds,” Hughes testified. “There were fresh wounds. There were old wounds. One of the things that really stuck out was the child’s nipple appeared to be removed. I’m not sure how that happened.”
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