YOUNGSTOWN Judge to rule on slay charge
One witness testified that he saw the defendant beat her child in the days before the baby's hospital stay.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The defense attorney representing a South Side teen-age mother accused of killing her 11-month-old son told a juvenile court judge that allowing the case to proceed to the adult level would be a mistake.
"What we're trying to divert now, judge, is a second tragedy," Atty. Mark Lavelle told Judge Theresa Dellick on Tuesday, "because that's what we're on the brink of."
But assistant prosecutor Michael Villani said only Janell Thomas could have delivered the blows that cracked the skull of her son Leroy Huff Jr. in four places and caused bleeding and swelling to his brain.
"She's the only person the state has shown did abuse this child or hit this child," Villani said.
Status of case: Thomas, 18, of 147 N. Garland Ave., faces a charge of involuntary manslaughter. Judge Dellick of Mahoning County Juvenile Court, who has listened to two days of testimony in the case, will determine whether the state has shown that probable cause exists to proceed with the charge.
If Judge Dellick rules that probable cause exists, she will have a hearing to decide if the case will move to common pleas court or stay at the juvenile level. Thomas was 17 when the child died.
Leroy died Oct. 11, two days after he was taken to the hospital when his grandmother found him lying on a bedroom floor with blue lips.
Testimony: About three days before the hospitalization, the defendant struck her baby as he cried, John Lee Clark Jr. of Youngstown testified.
"She just grabbed him and started hitting him and talking about his crying," said Clark, a friend who has known the defendant for about four months.
The defendant's mother, Jayellen Thomas, testified that she had seen her daughter at times strike the baby when he tried to reach for something he could not have. She said the teen would spank the child on the thigh or hand but never used a belt.
Villani asked her about statements she had made to Youngstown Police Detective Sgt. Daryl Martin, in which she said she had seen her daughter lose her temper and shake the child and that, in the days before the hospitalization, she had seen the teen beat the child until Jayellen Thomas reached to stop her.
Jayellen Thomas said she was referring to her daughter spanking the child and that she told her to stop because she does not approve of spanking.
Argument: Lavelle, of Youngstown, argued that the state offered no evidence to show that his client perpetrated the abuse that killed her child.
"The state is asking you to take ... a huge leap of faith, one I don't think you can take," Lavelle told the judge.
No testimony showed that Janell Thomas had abused her baby on the day of his hospitalization.
A Cuyahoga County deputy coroner testified last week that the child likely suffered blows to his head within hours of being taken to the hospital and that he would have appeared lethargic and unresponsive immediately after the abuse.
Day of hospitalization: On Tuesday, Jayellen Thomas and a 17-year-old female friend who stayed at the Garland Avenue home, both testified that Huff had been playful early in the day that he was taken to the hospital. Both also testified that they had not see anyone abuse the child that day.
The boy had been placed in a bedroom on a 12-inch high mattress and box springs in the early afternoon before Janell Thomas and her friend walked to the Family Dollar store, testimony showed. Jayellen Thomas baby-sat and napped until she heard a "boom" before falling asleep again and later finding the baby on the floor, his lips blue.
She called 911 and went to meet her daughter, who was on her way home from the store.
Villani said Janell Thomas had told police that she immediately caught a bus and went to the hospital, but investigators later discovered she had gone home, where she told her mother that the baby must have fallen off the bed and hit his head on a brass doorstop. At that point, Villani argued, no one knew the child had suffered a head injury.