UPDATE: Baby suffered severe head trauma, internal bleeding

spedersen@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 28, 2014 

Damian Belle closed his fist and struck his girlfriend's 23-month-old girl on the left side of her face and then picked her up and dropped her on her head on a kitchen floor, resulting in the child's death a few days later, according to court testimony.

Police said Friday a 14-year-old witness saw Belle, 19, inflict the pain and bruises medical personnel found on the girl during the autopsy. Ki'Ja Bassett died Monday from blunt impact head trauma, according to the preliminary results.

Belle was in court Friday for his initial hearing. No bond was set for his murder charge. He also faces charges of battery and cruelty to children in addition to another battery charge from his arrest March 17 for which he allegedly beat the child's mother.

Police said Friday that the child's mother went to Atlanta earlier in the week for a work-related trip and left the child in her boyfriend's care just two weeks after she filed a police report stating Belle beat her in the bedroom of the mobile home they shared. A police report said she was assaulted between noon March 7 and 11 a.m. March 8.

Belle was arrested March 17 and released on $1,000 bond later that day.

Mark Shelnutt, one of Belle's attorneys, said after Friday's hearing that it was obvious the child's mother "had no concerns for the safety of her child" in Belle's custody.

"After that (battery) charge, obviously she did not want to keep him away from the child," Shelnutt said.

On March 21, according to court testimony, Belle's father arrived at the mobile home at 988 Farr Road Lot around 4:40 p.m. to pick up the two of them, but Belle told his father that the child had "soiled herself" and needed a bath. The father left to run an errand around Benning Hills.

A few minutes later, the 14-year-old witness said he went to Belle's home to get payment for urinating in a bottle to provide a sample for the defendant. It was then the teenager witnessed Belle strike and drop the child, according to testimony.

When the father arrived back at the trailer, he told police he witnessed Belle walk outside with the child, who now was gasping for air. He told his father the baby fell in the bathtub, according to police.

The three of them traveled in a blue pickup truck to Columbus Fire Department Station 4, 200 N. Oakley Drive.

Fire Sgt. Tom Wilson told the court his crew had just returned from a call when he saw the truck pull up, with Belle screaming they needed help.

"She took one breath," Wilson said. "And then I propped her on my shoulder and carried her in. She had a heartbeat but wasn't breathing. I yelled out to the station for help."

Wilson, a former Columbus Cottonmouths hockey player, said he initiated CPR while another firefighter assisted.

The child's care was transferred to the medics when the EMS arrived. Wilson said the girl's pulse was weak at that point.

Once stabilized at Midtown Medical Center, the child was airlifted to Egleston Children's Hospital in Atlanta, where she was pronounced brain dead and later died. Ki'Ja Bassett suffered widespread impact on the top and back of her head, according to court testimony. The preliminary autopsy revealed one 9x8 cm area that contained "nine such impact marks," internal bleeding, bruising to the right thigh and leg, deep bruise on back of legs and bruising to both of her hips.

Shelnutt called the situation "a tragedy."

"He's been very, very remorseful, upset just about everything that's happened," Shelnutt said. "It's a tragedy that's affected a lot of people, a lot of lives."

Belle pled not guilty to all charges. The case will be forwarded to Superior Court.

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