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Witnesses testify to early signs of child abuse in trial

Witnesses testify to early signs of child abuse in trial

June 27th, 2019 by Lynn LaRowe in Texarkana News
Khadijah LaShawn Wright

NEW BOSTON, Texas—A Bowie County jury began hearing testimony Wednesday meant to help them decide if a mother should be held criminally liable in the March 2018 death of her 4-year-old son.

Khadijah Wright, 26, faces five to 99 years or life in prison if found guilty of injury to a child by omission in the death of D'Money Lewis. D'Money's father, Benearl Lewis, is serving a life term for murder in the case.

"What you have to decide is, if but not for Khadijah Wright's actions, would D'Money be alive," First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp said in opening statement. "The answer is yes."

Crisp argued that Wright had multiple opportunities to extricate Lewis from her life and the lives of her four young children but chose to put her relationship with him above the safety of the youngsters who depended on her. D'Money has an older brother, a younger brother and a younger sister.

Wright's lawyer, Jasmine Crockett of Dallas, opted Wednesday to reserve her opening statement for when the defense begins to present its case. Questions Crockett asked Wednesday intimate that she intends to argue Wright was suffering from battered women's syndrome rather than selfish indifference to her children's suffering.

D'Money died of blunt-force injuries and head trauma in March 2018, but it was not the first time he was hospitalized with a subdural hematoma or bleeding in his brain, which medical experts ruled the result of child abuse.

Texarkana, Ark., Police Detective Jason Haak testified that he was called to investigate in August 2013 when Wright and Lewis were living in Texarkana, Ark. D'Money, then a 4-month-old, was hospitalized locally and then airlifted to an Arkansas hospital. Haak said that case remains open and that no arrests were made because several people, including Lewis, had access to D'Money during the time he may have been injured.

At the time of D'Money's death, Wright was living in Wake Village, Texas, and was governed by a Child Protective Services care plan that dictated that Lewis not visit with the children unsupervised and that he not reside in their home, witnesses testified.

Rachel Speights, who works for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said she became involved with the family in August 2013, under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards. Speights testified that Wright did not appear to have a strong bond with her children and that she believes Wright moved regularly across state lines to avoid intervention by child welfare officials. Arkansas officials do not have jurisdiction in Texas and vice versa. Speights said Wright assured her agency that Lewis was no longer in the home, a claim that led Arkansas officials to close a case on Wright's children at least once, Speights testified. Speights said that when Wright moved to Mississippi with her children and their father, her agency contacted child welfare authorities in that state.

Michelle Neal testified that she was working as an investigator with child welfare in Arkansas in December 2016 when Texas-side investigators asked her to check in on Wright and her children. Neal said a case was active with Child Protective Services on the Texas-side, but Wright had recently taken her children to live at her mother's following a couple of days at Texarkana's battered women's shelter. Neal said D'Money told her Lewis hit him in his private parts while Wright claimed Lewis accidentally struck the child in the groin when he moved during a spanking.

A Texarkana, Texas, Child Protective Services worker who provides Family Based Safety Services testified that she helped oversee the institution of two safety plans for Wright's children in December 2017, just a few months before D'Money's death. Amy Ashley said CPS became involved at that time because Lewis had bitten D'Money's older brother on his hand. Ashley said that Wright knew of the abuse but was not the one who reported it to authorities. Ashley said that at that time, Wright claimed Lewis had moved to Arkansas and was not around their children.

Tasha Cooper, who lost her job with CPS in the aftermath of D'Money's death, was the Family Based Safety Services worker assigned to Wright's case under Ashley's supervision. Cooper said she asked Wright multiple times if she had been abused by Lewis and she always denied it. Cooper said she reminded Wright whenever the two met or spoke that Lewis is prohibited from being alone with the children and that Wright always assured her he was not around.

Cooper said that multiple calls concerning D'Money were made to the child abuse hotline Feb. 20, 2018. A therapist, a teacher and a vice principal all reported bruising and knots on the boy's head, which he said his father told him to say happened in the school cafeteria. The teacher testified that the preschool class hadn't been to the cafeteria that day and that D'Money often exhibited explosive, rageful behavior.

Both the teacher and the vice principal testified that they were never made aware by CPS of the care plan prohibiting Lewis from being alone with the children. Both testified that he regularly picked up his children from the school alone.

Cooper said that she was in contact with Wright via text messaging and phone conversations during the time that D'Money was on life support with no brain activity in a Texarkana hospital March 6, 2018, and that Wright made no mention of the boy's dire condition. Cooper said Wright told her all the children were fine and that the two discussed daycare arrangements because Cooper had received notice that D'Money and his brother had not been at preschool.

Cooper said Wright claimed the children had been staying with her sister and her mother while Wright was at work, leading Cooper to ask for their addresses so she could properly vet the homes. Testimony at Lewis' trial was that the children were actually left alone with him while Wright went to work and that after D'Money became unresponsive, more than two hours passed before the couple put him in a car and attempted to drive to a hospital. Cooper said eventually Wright "broke down" and told her D'Money was in the hospital after having fallen from a chest freezer in her home.

Deena McFarland, who was working as an investigator for Child Protective Services in Bowie County when D'Money suffered fatal injuries, said her agency knew that Wright and Lewis were in violation of the care plan following the calls from the children's preschool Feb. 20, 2018, but no action was taken because Wright claimed she had moved in with her mother in Texarkana, Ark. McFarland, who now works for the Arkansas Department of Child and Family Services, said that when she accompanied law enforcement to Wright's residence in Wake Village on the evening of March 6, 2018, she observed a hole in a wall low to the ground and a bloody rag.

McFarland said at least six people "that I know of" working for CPS in Bowie County were demoted or terminated following D'Money's death.

Judie Townsend, a special investigator with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said she found that Wright and Lewis were investigated 19 times by child welfare agencies in three states—Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi—since 2013. Townsend said she believes Wright's deception, not domestic violence, contributed to D'Money's death.

Testimony is expected to continue this morning before 5th District Judge Bill Miller at the Bowie County Courthouse in New Boston.

 

llarowe@texarkanagazette.com

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