The Columbia mother charged with forcing her son into a scalding shower as punishment last May was found guilty on all counts by 13th Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler in Boone County Circuit Court on Thursday.
Erma McKinney was found guilty of assault in the first degree, child abuse causing serious emotional injury, endangering the welfare of a child in a ritual or ceremony, and endangerment of a child in the first degree.
McKinney could serve from five to 67 years in prison.
McKinney placed her son in the shower and turned on the hot water on May 19, 2005, and she stood in front of the shower door as he screamed to be let out because the water was burning him, according to a statement she made to Columbia police Detective Latisha Stroer.
Her husband, Otis McKinney, whom she told police was also in the bathroom, faces trial on the same four charges next Wednesday. The McKinneys did not take their son in for treatment until nearly a month after he was burned, according to testimony Wednesday.
The ritual or ceremony charge is brought when there are allegations of abuse that is conducted by two or more people on more than one occasion. The charge was brought against McKinney because, in her statement to Stroer, she said that she had punished her son using a hot shower more than once. She told Stroer that the first time, her son was playing with the faucets and she realized that the shower could burn him. She used the shower on one other occasion as punishment, according to her statement to Stroer. The boy also testified on videotape that he had been placed in a hot shower many times by both parents.
After remaining expressionless throughout the bench trial, McKinney began to cry after the judge read his verdict.
Her reluctance to get treatment for her ill son proved Erma McKinney’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt, prosecutor Richard Hicks said in closing arguments.
“If this was just an accident, and they had no idea how it happened, it’s beyond me that they would let their son lay there for three and a half weeks,” he said. “They didn’t need a doctor to tell them that he needed help.”
Defense attorney Michael Coles said an inaccuracy in a police report containing McKinney’s confession and testimony by the boy’s surgeon that the wound seemed to have been caused by a chemical indicated reasonable doubt. He also said McKinney cared deeply for her son and that she was just deferring to her husband.
“She was following his lead,” Coles said.
Hicks disagreed with that assessment. “For a mother to put a man she’s been married to for five years ahead of her child doesn’t make sense,” Hicks said. “It defies human nature.”
He said that the state needed to send a strong message. “We don’t punish our children by scaring them to death by putting them in a hot shower,” Hicks said. “(McKinney’s son) is going to carry these emotional scars with him every day.”
Erma McKinney’s sentencing was scheduled for July 17.
Her son and daughter are in foster care.