WEST CHESTER —The weekend visit with their father had started out happily for the three young children, according to a county prosecutor in an opening statement to a Common Pleas Court jury hearing allegations of child abuse Tuesday.
The trio — ages 3, 2, and 1 — were in good spirits when their mother sent them off to stay with the 31-year-old man at his Lumber Street apartment. They were happy to be going for their normal weekend visit, acting like young children on a Saturday family adventure.
“But the visit didn’t go as planned,” said Assistant District Attorney Daniel Hollander in his address to the jury hearing the case against Lamar De-Shawn Addison.
When the children returned home the following day, “they were not to same carefree, fun-loving children. They were scared. They were anxious. They were crying uncontrollably.”
And when their mother and grandmother examined the 2-year-old, they found bruises that Addison blamed on a fall from a toy chest, a doctor at A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., found inconsistent with the injuries, which appeared more to be signs of abuse.
A later check of the 1-year-old, in addition, found that he was suffering from a broken collar bone — something Addison speculated had occurred when he lifted the baby out of his bath water.
“A father’s most important job is to protect his children,” Hollander, who is prosecuting the case with Deputy District Attorney Erin O’Brien of the D.A.’s Child Abuse Unit, told the jury of seven women and five men in Judge Ann Marie Wheatcraft’s temporary courtroom for the trial. “It is to keep them safe, to prevent them from harm. The defendant did the exact opposite.”
The prosecution’s theory of the case, based on interviews with the children’s mother, Shaquana Miles, texts messages that Addison sent her, and a taped conversation between Miles and Addison, is that Addison became stressed the night of the custody visit and lashed out at the two youngest children.
Based on circumstantial evidence and examination of the children by a child abuse expert from A.I. DuPont, the prosecution contends that Addison was the only person caring for the children during that weekend, and that in the absence of any other reasonable explanation for their injuries, he could be found guilty of the abuse — the “exclusive custody doctrine — even if no one saw him physically harm the children.
Addison, of Coatesville, is charged with multiple counts of aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of children.
But in Addison’s defense, Assistant Public Defender Sameer Barkawi urged the jury not to be swayed by how simple a scenario Hollander had presented them with in his opening. They needed to keep an open mind and listened hard to what evidence was, and was not, presented.
“This is a very grave matter,” Barkawi said in his opening. “These are his children. Reserve judgement until you have heard everything. This whole process doesn’t work if you don’t do that.”
Barkawi questioned why the charges were not brought against Addison for more than nine months after Miles first brought the matter to the attention of the Chester County Detectives, and why police had not interviewed the eldest of the children, who could have told them what he might have seen that weekend. He also noted that the prosecution’s expert could not testify when the youngest had suffered the broken collar bone.
Miles first reported the injuries to her 2-year-old on June 25, a day after taking the child to the hospital. She said she had sent the children to stay with Addison on June 23, and that he returned them the next day. While he was caring for them, he texted her to say that the 2-year-old had fallen on top of a toy and hurt himself. He then later sent a text saying he was “stressed out,” “thinking of leaving town,” and that he might kill someone, said Hollander.
On July 3, when Miles and Addison spoke about the injuries, he was unable to explain how the fall could have resulted in bruising to his face and ears, and said that when he was giving the 1-year-old a bath the baby slipped and he had to grab him “up real fast by his arm.”
In his examination, Dr. Stephanie Anne Deutsch of DuPont Hospital said the 2-year-old’s injuries were “atypical for accidental injury,” county Detective Gerald Davis wrote in his criminal complaint. The broken collar bone, she said, did not fit with Addison’s explanation of grabbing him by the arm.
The trial is expected to last until Thursday.