A boy who prosecutors say was heavily abused by his stepmother was put in psychiatric care by his father and stepmother three times within a month’s span in the fall of 2009, a psychiatrist testified Thursday.
Jaime Day, the boy’s stepmother, is standing trial on one count of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile. Prosecutors say Day, 31, 2841 Southern Ridge Road, abused and starved the boy. The 9-year-old boy weighed 38 pounds when he was taken to a hospital in 2010, according to previous court testimony.
Jurors also heard Thursday from one of the boy’s homebound teachers, who said she believed she saw a rope around the boy’s neck, and from his aunt, who called the Sheriff’s Office to report his condition.
The boy testified on Tuesday via video, but jurors asked for a transcript because the audio was difficult to hear. Lauren Smith, Judge Clayton Davis’ law clerk, read the boy’s statements Thursday, while defense attorney Walt Sanchez and prosecutor Lori Nunn asked the same questions they asked Tuesday.
Evelyn Brown Vincent, a homebound teacher with the Calcasieu school system, said that during her four sessions with the child in the spring of 2010, he would tell his mother that he did not want to come out. When he did come out, he would not interact with Vincent, but stand with his head down, not moving, in the same spot at the edge of the table.
“He just stood there the whole time I was there,” she said. She said she asked Day to leave the area, but Day sat on a sofa 3 to 5 feet away. “I could not get her to leave,” Vincent said.
During her last session with the boy, Vincent said schoolwork was torn up on the table — which Day told her the child had done. The boy was whimpering in his room and crying, and Vincent walked toward the room. She said she believed she saw a rope in Day’s hand and the other end around the boy’s neck, but could not accept that.
“I said this really couldn’t be,” Vincent said. She said it was as though she was in a time warp and did not know how she got back to the table.
“I was so shocked at seeing this, I thought surely I didn’t see this. Who does this?” Vincent said. “I knew that’s what I saw, but it’s like I didn’t see it. This can’t be happening, this can’t be right.”
Under cross-examination from Sanchez, Vincent said she had written in her notes that when the boy appeared she could see there was no rope. She said there was much confusion about what she saw.
“This is what I saw, but did I really see something so horrible happen to a child, a child that I am teaching and in a home that I am visiting,” Vincent said to Nunn under redirect.
The only time the boy interacted during the sessions was when his father was home, Vincent said. The child worked on multiplication, then his father told him he could go to his room, but it wasn’t until Day told him he could go that he left the table, Vincent said.
She said that because the boy was not interacting, the sessions were not lasting two hours as planned and she wanted to come back more frequently, but Day was “resistant.”
After one of the sessions, Vincent said she asked Day if she could give the boy a treat, but Day said he only ate grits and noodles. She asked if she could do so anyway and Day said yes. Vincent put the candy in his pocket, but then saw him take it out of his pocket and place it on the table, she said.
Day told her after each class that she was trying to get the boy in long-term care.
Before a planned session, Day called Vincent to tell her the boy was sick and that she should not come, Vincent said. When she went to drop off his homework, the lights were on and the car was in the driveway, but there was no answer at the door, she said. Day told her one of her other children had a dentist appointment, Vincent said.
Vincent also wrote in her notes that her first thoughts of abuse by his parents may have been wrong but that there was “something disturbing about (the boy) and his surroundings.”
Dr. Charles Murphy, a psychiatrist, testified that the boy was hospitalized in psychiatric care six times from 2009 to 2011. He was hospitalized three times in a month’s span in the fall of 2009, again in early 2010, then once in July 2010 while in the care of a foster family and in 2011 while in the care of another foster family.
He said he was “surprised” when he saw the boy in 2010. It seemed as though something had happened to the boy, but what that was, he did not know, Murphy said.
Day told hospital staff that the boy’s eardrum was perforated because he put a clothes hanger in his ear for attention, Murphy said. Day reported that the boy was cutting and scratching himself, urinating on walls and defecating, then putting the feces under the TV.
Murphy said he did not recall seeing those behaviors while the boy was hospitalized, but did see mood swings. Under questioning from Nunn, Murphy said the behavior was consistent with an abused child. The boy was an attention seeker and manipulative, the doctor said.
He diagnosed the child with post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, Murphy said. He said he hypothesized that the post-traumatic stress disorder was from abuse by the boy’s biological mother and her boyfriends.
Under questioning from Nunn, Murphy said it was possible the boy could have been abused by Day — which would have “exacerbated” his condition. The boy told staff that he wanted to hurt himself so people would feel sorry for him, Murphy said.
“(He) told me, ‘If you discharge me, I will kill myself tonight,’ because he didn’t want to go home,” Murphy said.
In the boy’s second hospital stay, he began complaining of auditory hallucinations, although hospital staff doubted the veracity of the complaints, Murphy said. The child said the voices told him to hurt himself so people would feel sorry for him, Murphy said.
He was hospitalized again when he and his mother said he stabbed himself through his lip with a screwdriver, Murphy said. Day and the boy did not use the same terminology to describe the event, he said.
“(He) might say, I stabbed myself with a screwdriver to try to commit suicide,” Murphy said.
Jaime and Murry Day also reported to hospital staff that the boy would shoplift at stores, Murphy said.
The boy said he used the bathroom in his pants because he was angry about being punished, Murphy said.
The boy was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in November 2011 after he threatened to kill himself and others, Murphy said.
Katie Day, Jaime Day’s sister-in-law, testified that although there were repercussions for calling the Sheriff’s Office in March 2010, she believes she did the right thing.
“I feel like I saved my nephew’s life,” Katie Day said.
Murry Day told his sister that he blamed her before going to turn himself in, Katie Day said.
Katie Day said Jaime Day invited her to the house and they ate pizza together.
She saw a dog leash tied from the doorknob of her the boy’s room to another doorknob to keep it closed, she said. When she walked by the door later it was open and she saw her nephew, who told her he was only allowed to eat grits, she said.
At the hospital, the boy asked for grits, his aunt said. She said she went to the store to purchase some, but that when she returned, he had eaten all the contents of an adult tray of food.
Jaime Day told her sister-in-law at the hospital that she could not believe what was happening, that she had not done anything, Katie Day said.
Lynn McDonald, a counselor who runs Helping Hands, said his office saw the boy one to two times a week for five weeks, usually with his mother. He said the complaints were about impulsive and volatile behavior. Most of the complaints came from Day, he said.
Day told McDonald that the boy had behavioral problems at school, he said.
“Did you accept that?” Nunn asked him.
“I had no reason not to,” McDonald said.
McDonald said he did not suspect the boy was hiding anything or being abused.
McDonald said he suggested to Day that they remove the bed frame from the boy’s bedroom because she said he was beating his face against the bed post. In photos shown to the jury on Tuesday, only a pallet was in the boy’s room. A dresser was in his closet.
Records from other counselors and McDonald said the boy was “attached” to Day and did not want to leave her side, he said.
Davis asked Sheriff’s Office detective Elizabeth Zaunbrecher to leave the trial because she had spoken with Vincent during a break in her testimony. When asked what Zaunbrecher said to her, Vincent said the detective told her she knew one of her co-workers and that she was doing a good job.