Mother of dead 2-year-old takes the stand

Thursday, September 3, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 11:07 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 3, 2009
Keyonda Lumpkins testifies during her trial Wednesday afternoon at the Boone County Courthouse. The state rested its case Wednesday afternoon regarding the June 2008 death of her 2-year-old son.

COLUMBIA — With tissues in hand, Keyonda Lumpkins took the stand for about three hours Wednesday afternoon in her trial in the death of 2-year-old Cortez Johnson, her son.

Cortez died June 25, 2008, of blunt-force trauma to the head.

Lumpkins, 27, is charged with second-degree murder along with the toddler’s father, Horace Johnson. His trial is scheduled for December.

As defense attorney Kevin O’Brien began to question Lumpkins about how she met Johnson, she turned toward the jurors and spoke directly to them.

She said she first ran into the boy’s father in July 2005 in front of her house while pacing up and down the street, trying to lessen the pain from sickle cell anemia. They started talking, and he ended up helping her make breakfast for her two children, Lumpkins said.

Johnson was a good boyfriend until he found out that Lumpkins was pregnant with Cortez, at which time he became abusive and controlling, she said.

“He acted as if I were his property,” Lumpkins testified. “He would hit me if I wouldn’t do what he said.”

She said Johnson would choke her for hours, isolate her from her family and punch her in the face, head and back. On one occasion, he bound her wrists and ankles with duct tape, she said, and did the same to Cortez.

After Johnson was released from prison in the spring of 2008, he lived in Reality House, a halfway house, until he fled in early June, Lumpkins testified. He was shot in the leg on June 10 but did not follow a doctor’s orders to stay in the hospital. Instead, he moved in with Lumpkins at a house at 1019 Elleta Blvd.

At the time, Cortez did not know his father very well, so Johnson tried to make the toddler like him and decided to potty train him, Lumpkins said. Johnson thought that Cortez needed to “toughen up” and become “a big boy,” she testified.

Johnson made the toddler stay in the corner for hours, spanked him with an open hand and let him urinate on himself, Lumpkins said. On several occasions, she said she saw Johnson use a belt to beat him.

Every time Lumpkins tried to get near Cortez to stop the abuse, Johnson would punch her or choke her, according to her testimony.

“He told me it’s his son,” she said. “He was trying to build a bond with him.”

“Did you ever have a choice to leave?” O’Brien asked.

The jurors leaned in to hear the response. Lumpkins paused, looked up at the ceiling, then stared straight at the jurors.

“I didn’t see to have a chance to leave," she said. "He abused me for years.”

The abuse was accompanied by threats that he would kill her and Cortez if she called police, Lumpkins said.

On June 25, 2008, Lumpkins was in severe pain from sickle cell anemia and took prescribed morphine, which made her fall into deep sleep, she testified.

When she woke up, Johnson was about to give the child a bath. Lumpkins said she ran the water, but Johnson wanted to make it hotter. When he put the toddler in the tub, the child slumped, she said, and that's when she knew something was wrong with the child and started asking questions about what had happened to Cortez's face, which was bruised.

Johnson responded by starting to choke her, she said.

As she tried to get away from him, she asked him to take the boy to the hospital, she said. Johnson refused even though Cortez was not breathing, she said. Johnson said he didn’t want to risk going to prison again.

Lumpkins said she eventually persuaded Johnson to drive her to the hospital but that he first made up an alibi and called his sister to tell her to meet them at the hospital. After he dropped off Lumpkins and Cortez at the hospital, he left and told his sister to make sure Lumpkins stuck to the story that he was in Arkansas with his cousin, Lumpkins said.

During her testimony, the defense focused on letting Lumpkins tell her version of what happened in the days leading up to Cortez’s death. But in cross examination, Boone County Chief Prosecutor Dan Knight pressed her for answers as to how the 2-year-old received the more than 200 burns, cuts and bruises on his body at the time of his death.

He also asked her to explain the presence of items in her home that could have been used to inflict the injuries.

Lumpkins said she didn't know about the injuries, except for a minor scratch on Cortez's face, because Johnson kept her away from the child in the days before he died.

The trial will conclude with closing arguments starting at 9 a.m. Thursday in Boone County Circuit Court.

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