Mother acquitted in 2-year-old son's death

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 10, 2011 - 10:16 PM

The woman's boyfriend had previously been found guilty of manslaughter in the 2009 case.

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Jessica Caldwell

A St. Paul woman was acquitted Saturday night in the death of her 2-year-old son, more than two years after the boy suffered such brutal injuries that 1.5 liters of blood collected in his abdomen by the time he got to the hospital.

The Ramsey County District jury reached its verdict in the murder trial of Jessica Caldwell after a day and a half of deliberations.

In his closing arguments Friday, prosecutor David Miller said that Caldwell assaulted her son because he was whiny. Julian James-Robert Williams vomited three times overnight Sept. 9, 2009, while he and his mother were at the home of her boyfriend, Demetrius Willis.

Julian suffered numerous injuries: 28 bruises to his head, 34 bruises to his chest and abdomen, four bruises to his back and a lacerated liver. His pancreas was torn in half. Nearby arteries and veins were also torn. He died Sept. 10, 2009, after being removed from life support.

"She got rough with Julian because he wasn't being the perfect child, because he was being fussy," Miller said.

He told jurors that Caldwell was perpetrating the same extreme discipline that she and her two younger siblings suffered in Chicago at the hands of their father after their mother divorced him and moved to St. Paul.

Caldwell, 24, was charged with four counts of second-degree unintentional murder, two counts of first-degree manslaughter and one count of second-degree manslaughter.

Defense attorney Ira Whitlock had asserted that Caldwell was a doting mother who diligently kept track of her son's severe digestive disorder. Julian's pediatrician and multiple family members testified that Caldwell went to great lengths to keep her son from foods that caused vomiting and diarrhea, and that she called urgent care or took him to the hospital anytime he wasn't feeling well.

Whitlock pointed the finger at Willis and Caldwell's then-15-year-old brother, Darrell Spencer. Spencer hit the toddler Sept. 9 with a fiberglass cast on his arm when he bit Spencer, and Willis beat Julian in the early morning hours of Sept. 10 because he vomited in his bedroom and interrupted him and Caldwell having sex.

"This young lady is a good mother," Whitlock said. "Is there guilt by association in the United States? She can't be guilty because she was the last one with her baby. She can't be guilty because she was at that house."

The prosecution's case rested on the premise that Caldwell was at Willis' house when Julian suffered his injuries, caused them and delayed getting help. They didn't provide any witnesses to the abuse or any past abuse.

Miller himself told jurors that the prosecution only had circumstantial evidence and no direct evidence such as eyewitness accounts.

Whitlock argued that Willis, who was convicted of manslaughter and acquitted of murder two months ago in Julian's death, was an unreliable witness who changed his story. He was the one who beat the boy, Whitlock said.

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