The Alabama mother of a baby girl ‘beaten to death by an eight-year-old boy while she was out at a nightclub’ has denied leaving the children alone.
Katerra Lewis, 26, was charged with manslaughter after police say the boy killed one-year-old Kelci Lewis when she wouldn’t stop crying on October 11 – while their mothers were gone.
The boy, who was allegedly left to watch over five younger children, then placed the baby back in her crib as if she was sleeping. He has since been charged with murder.
Lewis’ attorney has now spoken out saying his client disputes the allegations that she left the children home alone.
‘I know they’re saying she left her child there without any type of adult supervision, but that’s not what she’s saying,’ lawyer Emory Anthony said, although he declined to elaborate on what Lewis claims happened that night.
The eight year old has now become the youngest person in living memory to be charged with murder in Jefferson County. He is currently in the care of the state.
Birmingham Police spokesman Sean Edwards said a six year old who was in the home on the night of the murder told officers the boy had beaten and killed Kelci.
An inquest later found that the story was consistent with the toddler’s injuries.
Kelci Lewis, from Birmingham, Alabama, suffered severe head trauma and major damage to her internal organs, police said.
‘This is by far one of the saddest cases that I have witnessed and been a part of since I became a police officer,’ Edwards said.
‘This type of irresponsibility on behalf of a parent is totally unacceptable,’ he added.
Edwards said the eight year old was the oldest of six children left alone as their mothers, Lewis and a friend, went to a club. Lewis’ friend, who is mother to the eight-year-old, has not been charged.
Police will not release the name of the boy or the other children, aged two, four, six and seven, who were left at the home on the night in question and are still in the custody of the state, according to AL.com.
Birmingham Police chief AC Roper said: ‘This is one of the most heartbreaking investigations that I have seen in over 30 years of my law enforcement career.
‘There are just too many deep rooted issues in this horrific crime.
‘It’s extremely troubling from so many different angles and there are no law enforcement answers to prevent it.
‘We’ve been concerned about the kids and the future effect on their lives. The bottom line is an innocent young baby lost her life and that should be a wake-up call for our community.’
Edwards said the boy is the youngest murder defendant he’s ever been aware of in the Birmingham area.
‘I believe the eight year old is going to require some intense counseling for the next several years,’ Edwards said.
Legal experts say the case will be challenging on several fronts because of the boy’s age.
University of Alabama associate law professor Jenny Carroll said in many jurisdictions, children under the age of 10 or 12 are presumed not to have the capacity to form criminal intent and have difficulty understanding court proceedings.
‘We recognize that children don’t have the same thought processes and don’t have fully developed decision-making processes at that age,’ said Carroll, who has represented juvenile offenders.’
Alabama is one of about three dozen states that have no minimum age for children to be prosecuted in juvenile court, according to Marsha Levick, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center.
She was only aware of a handful of cases involving children younger than 12 who were charged with murder.
In 2009, an Arizona boy pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in the fatal shootings of his father and a man who rented a room in the family’s home.
He was eight at the time of the shootings. The boy was sentenced to indefinite treatment at a residential facility and probation until he’s 18.
Levick said the eight year old’s case would be best handled by the child welfare system, not the juvenile justice system, because the boy would be more likely to get the necessary psychological and educational help.
‘The juvenile justice system has almost nothing to offer him,’ she said.
Bryan Stevenson of the Montgomery-based group Equal Justice Initiative questioned the way the boy has been characterized. Police have called the assault ‘vicious.’
‘What I’m really concerned about is assigning to this boy all of these evil, and vicious and adult-like characteristics when we’re talking about an 8-year-old child,’ Stevenson said. ‘This is about neglect, abuse. It’s about the way we fail to help our children in the most vulnerable situations. It’s not about an eight-year old murderer.’
Lewis, who has posted $15,000 bond, is charged with reckless manslaughter on accusations that she caused Kelci’s death by leaving her in the care of another child that she knew was violent or where the girl wouldn’t be protected from abuse.
Lewis’ attorney Anthony said: ‘Right now we’re just trying to find out what they have.’
Charging the girl’s mother with manslaughter could be strategic so that a jury could be instructed to also consider child abuse or neglect, Carroll said.
‘They could convict her on a lesser offense, they can’t go the other way though,’ she said.
A vigil was held for Kelci last month in a Birmingham park where people gathered and lit candles and released balloons to remember the young girl.
‘She was loved by so many,’ her grandmother, Waynetta Callens, told AL.com. ‘… Prayers and the grace of God are helping me to keep my sanity right now.’
Callens added: ‘She grew to be this happy adorable lovable cheerful talkative baby that everyone grew to love.
‘Words cannot express the way my daughter and myself feel along with the family.’
AL reported that Lewis attended the gathering but was too distraught to speak.