By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A single blunt impact that cracked his skull in four places caused the death of 11-month-old Leroy Huff Jr. in October in his East Side home, a forensic expert testified.
"The injuries of the head and neck of this child could have been the result of either something striking the head or the head striking some surface," Dr. Erica J. Wilson said Friday during a Mahoning County juvenile court hearing. She is a Cuyahoga county deputy coroner.
The hearing is under way to determine if there is enough evidence to charge the child's mother with his death.
Jannell Thomas, 18, of North Garland Avenue, faces a charge of involuntary manslaughter. If Judge Theresa Dellick of the county's juvenile court determines there is probable cause to proceed with the charge, she also will hear arguments on whether the case should be transferred to adult court.
Thomas was 17 at the time of the boy's death and denied the accusation at a juvenile court hearing.
What caused death: Wilson testified that the child suffered fractures to the skull, bleeding and swelling of the brain and bruising of the top portion of the spinal cord.
She said the impact likely forced the brain to move within the skull, causing a breakdown in the way it sends messages throughout the body and leading to death.
The child also suffered recent bruises on his back and ankle, abrasions on his buttock and 11 puncture wounds on his feet. At least one of the foot wounds was made during medical treatment, she said.
Thomas, shackled and wearing an orange detention jumpsuit, wept as she entered the courtroom and received a kiss on the cheek from her mother, Jayellen Thomas of Youngstown.
When she broke down during the coroner's testimony, Judge Dellick allowed her to leave the hearing and sit in a neighboring room with her mother and a deputy sheriff.
During a break in court proceedings, Jayellen Thomas said she didn't believe her daughter injured the baby but that he may have been hurt by a visitor to the teen's home. She said the teen was raising Leroy and an older son by herself and was under a lot of stress but also had patience.
"She loved her sons," Jayellen Thomas said. "She did the best she could."
Jayellen Thomas was baby-sitting the child at his home and had placed him on a mattress and bedsprings to nap before finding him lying on the floor, his lips purple, police reports show.
She has told The Vindicator that the child may have fallen on a brass doorstop. The baby's mother had gone to the store.
Reactions of others: Also in court were the baby's father, paternal grandfather and grandmother and a paternal aunt.
The father, Leroy Huff of Youngstown, said he had dated Thomas for six years. The baby's paternal grandfather, Carl Jones of Liberty, said he hopes to see the case transferred to adult court.
"People that can take an 11-month-old baby and crush their skull ... I don't have any sympathy," he said outside the courtroom. "They can do all the crying they want."
The baby's brother, 3, now lives with Jones.
The Trumbull County coroner has ruled the younger child's death a homicide, based on Wilson's autopsy report. Cuyahoga County handled the autopsy because Trumbull officials were out of town at the time of the death; however, Trumbull retained jurisdiction over the case.
Wilson said the type of injuries the baby suffered showed that they could not be the result of a fall but were from being hit by or against a broad, flat surface, and that they occurred within hours to a day before the child was taken to the hospital.
The child was taken to St. Elizabeth Health Center on Oct. 9. He died two days later at Forum Health Tod Children's Hospital.
Testimony in the hearing continues next week.