It was a “medical miracle” the 1-year-old boy survived the multiple skull fractures and bleeding and swelling within his brain resulting from his being violently shaken and slammed against a bed’s headboard, the prosecutor said.
The child sustained those injuries Oct. 28, 2012, the day after his first birthday. Today he’s 3½ years old, and still suffers epileptic seizures, poor coordination and developmental delays, Assistant District Attorney Letitia Sikes said Tuesday during sentencing for the boy’s assailant.
The assailant was Devonte Qwendarius Tyner, once the boyfriend of the child’s mother, but not the boy’s father. Tyner also was charged with assaulting the boy’s sister, two years older, whom doctors examined after treating the boy at The Medical Center and having him life-flighted to Egleston Hospital in Atlanta.
Their examination showed the girl had a broken collar bone that, left untreated, already had begun to heal. Like her little brother, she also had remnants of human bite marks on her skin, Sikes said.
Those clues prompted investigators to backtrack any previous hospital visits the children had, revealing the boy on March 14, 2012, had been treated for a left elbow injury consistent with his having been swung forcefully by one arm. The girl on the following Sept. 12 had been treated for injuries likely resulting from a severe beating, Sikes said.
Such evidence led authorities to charge both Tyner and then-girlfriend Deseree Dionne Williamson with aggravated battery and first-degree cruelty to children. Though no evidence indicated Williamson abused the children — Tyner was beating her, too, witnesses said — she faced charges for failing to protect her son and daughter.
That Tyner also abused the mother was evident by the black eye she had when she was arrested, Sikes said.
Williamson pleaded guilty July 28, 2014, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison with nine years to serve. She would have testified against Tyner had his case gone to trial, Sikes said.
Tyner, now 22, twice faced a judge Tuesday as attorneys anticipated a guilty plea, but initially he chose to plead not guilty, which would have sent the case to trial.
His attorney Robert Wadkins Jr. said Tyner later reconsidered, so his plea was rescheduled for Tuesday afternoon before Superior Court Judge William Rumer.
Wadkins tried to get his client a sentence of 20 years with eight years to serve in prison, a year less than the children’s mother got. Sikes vehemently disagreed.
“The 20 years with eight to serve recommendation from Mr. Wadkins is a joke,” she told Rumer before again emphasizing how violently the boy was abused.
“I cannot believe this child survived these injuries,” she said, noting the boy’s head sustained “multiple strikes to the point that part of the child’s skull was sticking out,” and again emphasizing: “The child’s skull was fractured in multiple places.”
Recounting the facts of the case, Sikes said the mother called an ambulance to the couple’s 3320 Buena Vista Road home about 2:30 p.m. that Sunday in October 2012.
“It’s one of the creepiest 911 calls that I’ve ever reviewed,” she told Rumer, explaining that Williamson’s voice conveyed no concern for her son’s health, while in the background Tyner could be heard saying, “Get up! Get up! Get up!”
Besides the fractures, doctors found the boy’s brain had shifted 8 millimeters within his skull and sustained a “shearing injury” typical of a child’s having been violently shaken, and his retinas were bleeding.
In Atlanta, surgeons had to remove part of his brain to ease pressure from the swelling, Sikes said.
Under police questioning, Williamson and Tyner gave accounts that kept changing, with the mother trying to cover for her boyfriend by corroborating whatever he said.
Finally Tyner told Columbus police Detective Katina Williams that he became frustrated when the boy wouldn’t stop crying, and the child’s head might have hit the headboard as he shook the boy.
Pleading for a more lenient sentence, Wadkins told Rumer that Tyner was only 20 at the time, and working 10 hours a day for a maintenance company doing painting, yard work and roof repair. He also was studying to get a high-school graduate equivalency diploma so he could go to culinary school in Florida, where he’d already been accepted.
Tyner was supporting both his girlfriend and her two children, though neither child was his, Wadkins said.
“This is his first interaction with the court,” the attorney added, noting Tyner had no criminal record.
Among those testifying on Tyner’s behalf was a grandmother who said: “He would never hurt a child. I don’t think he got mad and did anything to that baby.”
Of the little boy, she said: “He’s going to be fine.”
No, he’s not, said the little boy’s paternal grandmother, Diane Roland: “He will never be normal.”
She asked Rumer not to give Tyner the opportunity to hurt another child: “Please don’t give him a chance to kill the next one.”
Tyner briefly addressed the court, apologizing for “what happened to that child” but not specifically saying he caused the injuries. “I love that child like he was my own,” he said.
Sikes asked Rumer to sentence Tyner to 20 years in prison with 18 to serve, saying Tyner at least should do twice as much time as the children’s mother. Rumer would not stop at 18 years.
With Tyner facing two counts each of aggravated battery and first-degree cruelty to children for abusing both the boy and girl, Rumer sentenced him to serve 20 years in prison, and to have no contact with the victims or their families, including his former girlfriend.
According to the Georgia Department Corrections, Williamson now is being housed in the Pulaski State Prison in Hawkinsville, where she started serving her time Aug. 13, 2014.
Her two children are in the custody of a great aunt, Sikes said. The girl today is 5 years old.
After the sentencing, the boy’s aunt Tiera Mitchell said her family was just relieved to see the case resolved.
“This has been a long, stressful ride,” she said.