Slain toddler's father not legal guardian, attorney says

Monday, November 2, 2009 | 8:41 p.m. CST; updated 8:40 a.m. CST, Tuesday, November 3, 2009

COLUMBIA — A Columbia man charged in the death of his biological son did not have a legal obligation to protect the 2-year-old, the defendant's attorney argued in a pre-trial hearing Monday.

Horace Courtez Johnson, 27, is charged with second-degree murder. His son, Cortez Johnson, died June 25, 2008, from blunt-force trauma to the head, according to previous Missourian reports.

Stephen Wyse, Horace Johnson’s attorney, filed a motion to strike from the record any reference to Horace Johnson as Cortez Johnson’s father, which Wyse said should be considered hearsay evidence.

The boy’s mother, Keyonda Lumpkins, 27, was found guilty in September of second-degree murder in the boy’s death and was sentenced to 24 years in prison.  

According to probable cause statements, Lumpkins and Horace Johnson both accused each other of abusing the boy.

Wyse, who appeared with his client, said Horace Johnson’s name was not on his son’s birth certificate. He said it had not been proven that Horace Johnson was Cortez Johnson’s biological father until after the boy’s death.

Wyse said, under state law, Horace Johnson did not have the “rights and obligations” of a legal guardian while Cortez Johnson was alive, and thus any reference to his client as the boy’s father would be “misleading.”

Boone County Assistant Prosecutor Roger Johnson, who appeared with Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight, objected to the motion. He said any testimony stating that Horace Johnson is Cortez Johnson’s father would be relevant in the trial and that it would be used to establish a motive: that Horace Johnson abused his son while trying to discipline him.

If the motion were upheld, the prosecution would have to prove Horace Johnson was responsible for Cortez Johnson's injuries. Horace Johnson's legal obligation to protect Cortez Johnson from his mother, Lumpkins, would also be absolved.  

Horace Johnson, who wore an orange jumpsuit issued to inmates kept at the Jefferson City Correctional Center, became visibly upset while Roger Johnson argued his objection.  

Wyse and Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton advised Horace Johnson to keep quiet during the hearing a total of three times.  

Hamilton did not come to a conclusion on Wyse’s motion, and said it would be “taken under advisement” and ruled upon during the trial.

On the morning of his death, Cortez Johnson’s body had been brought to University Hospital with more than 200 injuries, consisting of burns, cuts and strikes to the head.

Medical reports indicated that the toddler was malnourished when he was brought to the hospital, and a medical examiner testified that he had had been dead for more than four hours when he was brought to the hospital.

During Lumpkins’ trial, Horace Johnson’s sister and two of his friends testified that they had seen Lumpkins abuse the boy.

Lumpkins and members of her family testified that Horace Johnson was abusive toward Lumpkins. Some members of her family testified that they had not seen any significant injuries on Cortez Johnson before his death.

However, a University Hospital burn surgeon testified that some of Cortez Johnson’s injuries were in varying stages of healing, indicating that the boy had been abused over a period of time.

Horace Johnson had been living with Lumpkins and Cortez Johnson for several weeks before Cortez Johnson’s death, after escaping from a halfway house he had lived in after being released from prison a few months earlier.

Horace Johnson’s first trial date is set for Dec. 1.

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