Trial witness: Two-year-old's burns showed pattern of abuse

Wednesday, September 2, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 11:07 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 3, 2009
Keyonda Lumpkins, left, pauses during her second-degree murder trial at the Boone County Courthouse on Tuesday. Lumpkins is on trial for the June 2008 death of her 2-year-old son, Cortez Johnson.

COLUMBIA — When Cortez Johnson's body was brought to University Hospital on the morning of June 25, 2008, more than 200 injuries covered his body, witnesses testified Tuesday in the murder trial of Keyonda Lumpkins, the 2-year-old boy’s mother. He was also severely underweight and dehydrated.

Cortez had likely been dead for hours at that point. In addition to the burns, cuts and bruises on his body, strikes to his head caused bleeding in his skull that eventually led to his death, MU neuropathologist Douglas Miller testified.

Lumpkins, 27, is charged with second-degree murder. Cortez’s father, 27-year-old Horace Johnson, faces the same charge and is scheduled for trial in December. They’ve accused each other of causing the injuries that led to the child's death.

In his opening statement Tuesday morning in 13th Circuit Court, Dan Knight, chief prosecutor in the case, argued that Lumpkins is responsible for her son’s death, even if she didn’t inflict the fatal wounds. Knight said Lumpkins could have sought help for "little Tez" many times in the weeks leading up to the boy’s death.

But Lumpkins' attorney, Kevin O'Brien, said Johnson preyed on Lumpkins' weaknesses and endeavored to isolate her from her supportive family. O’Brien said Lumpkins feared Johnson would kill her or the child if she tried to get help.

"What happened here is unbelievably horrible, but Keyonda Lumpkins did not murder her baby," O'Brien said.

Lumpkins and Johnson had been living together at 1019 Elleta Blvd. for several months before Cortez’s death, witnesses testified.

Johnson was released from prison in the spring of 2008 and was then transferred to Reality House, a halfway house, from which he fled in early June. He was shot in the leg on June 10 and stayed at the house on Elleta Boulevard for the next two weeks. It was during that time that much of the abuse is believed to have occurred.

Lumpkins and another woman brought Cortez to the hospital at about 10 a.m. on June 25. Lumpkins, who carried Cortez in her arms, did not say anything and appeared "flat" and emotionless, testified Rochelle Pittman, who worked at the front desk of the University Hospital emergency room.

Cortez was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. Medical examiners and police investigators were called in to handle the case. A pediatric burn specialist and neuropathology expert, who also investigated Cortez's death, testified Tuesday.

With the help of dozens of graphic photographs of Cortez’s injuries — including pictures of burns to his face, buttocks and genitalia — the doctors explained to the Platte County jury how and when Cortez might have sustained his injuries. Many of the burns were in different stages of healing, University Hospital burn surgeon James Kraatz testified, indicating Cortez had been abused over a period of time, mainly seven to 30 days prior to his death.

Earlier Tuesday, family members and acquaintances of Lumpkins and Johnson testified that they had seen Lumpkins abuse Cortez on different occasions. Both John Brown, Johnson’s friend, and Alruekia Brown-Wells, Brown’s girlfriend, testified that Lumpkins had hit Cortez multiple times when the four were in a car.

Brown-Wells also said she witnessed an incident in which Lumpkins ordered Cortez to hit a boy who had pushed him down. Lumpkins said she "'didn’t raise no punk,'" Wells testified.

The day ended with the showing of an hour-long video of a Columbia police interview with Lumpkins, conducted by two detectives on the day of Cortez’s death. The detectives tried to persuade Lumpkins to tell them how Cortez had sustained his injuries.

Lumpkins repeatedly said in the video that she only ever saw Johnson strike Cortez with his hand or a belt. She said she tried to stop Johnson but he would also beat and threaten her.

However, Columbia Police Detective Joseph Jackson told her he didn’t believe that she didn’t know all that was going on or that she couldn’t have stopped it. He pointed out that she didn't appear to have any injuries.

"They’re just not gonna believe you that you had no idea how this happened," Jackson said to her. "You left your son in that house to die."

The trial is scheduled to continue at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in the 13th Circuit Court.

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