Woman found guilty of murder in death of her goddaughter
Late afternoon update: The jury returned a guilty verdict Wednesday afternoon in the murder trial of a godmother accused of beating her 2-year-old goddaughter to death. Sentencing phase will start Thursday.
Early afternoon story: Closing arguments began Wednesday in the capital murder trial of a godmother accused of beating her two-year-old goddaughter to death.
Shawntrell Dawkins, 33, is accused of killing toddler Milayna Harris in 2008.
"I am looking for that one juror who is willing to stand strong in the face of eleven other jurors and say 'no,'" defense attorney Stuart Leeds said. "That one juror to say 'No, I'm not going to do it; it's not right.' That would be a true profile in courage."
Jurors were shown disturbing photos of the young girl on an overhead projector, earlier in the week.
"I didn't bring those photos to make you cry. They make me cry when I see them," Assistant District Attorney Penny Hamilton told jurors during closing arguments. "Murder is not pretty. Capital murder is not pretty. And dead children are the worst of all."
Milayna was photographed with visible injuries to her forehead and hospital tubes streaming from her small body.
"Let's show them the worst photos we can, so the jury cries, puts their heads down and can't pay attention to anything else," Leeds said in closing arguments to jurors. Are those photos, evidence that Miss Dawkins struck the killing blow? No, it's just there to prejudice you."
A former neighbor testified to calling the police in February of 2008, when she heard screaming children inside the home.
The policeman who responded to the emergency call said he did not see anything out of the ordinary when he arrived.
Milayna died two months later.
"There's no conspiracy here," Hamilton told jurors Wednesday. "Something went horribly, horribly wrong. But it didn't start out that way. I don't know why people kill children. I don't know why she killed Milayna."
Shawntrell Dawkins husband, Staff Sgt. Nakia Dawkins, is in jail following an injury-to-a-child conviction in the death.
Nakia Dawkins has still not been sentenced.
A police videotaped interrogation was shown to jurors where Nakia Dawkins told police the couple was exasperated after having to care for two of their friend's children as well.
Nakia Dawkins said on the tape that the couple was taking care of Milayna while her mother, a soldier, was deployed to Germany.
"The problem is she never f***ing tells us anything," Nakia Dawkins said in the videotape.
Nakia Dawkins described how he used a belt to beat Milayna for defecating in her underwear.
During the videotaped interrogation, police repeatedly asked Nakia Dawkins who killed Milayna, but he never answered.
Nakia Dawkins called himself the "heavy-handed one," in terms of disciplining, but later said the beating was more like "50/50," between him and his wife.
Nakia Dawkins said in the videotape that on the night of Milayna's death, he heard a loud boom, then the sounds of the girl being told to go to "time out."
Soon after that, Nakia Dawkins said he heard Shawntrell Dawkins say, "Milayna, Milayna, Milayna...Baby, she's not breathing! Baby she's not moving."
Nakia Dawkins said his wife lay next to him in bed, telling him perhaps Milayna had fallen down the stairs.
Defense attorneys objected to the presentation of the videotapes to the jury contending the couple had been coerced into making the video statements.
"She's crazy," Nakia Dawkins said in the videotape, referring to his wife.
Closing arguments centered around the weight of the circumstantial evidence presented by prosecutors, and whether or not jurors could convict Shawntrell Dawkins on murder and capital murder charges.
"At the most, it's injury to a child," Leeds told jurors. "Not murder or capital murder," Leeds said.
The "law of party" states that if a person has an opportunity to prevent a murder or was a participant in a death, he or she can be convicted of capital murder.
"Neither one of them admitted to the death blows," Hamilton told jurors. "But they both did it and it's all there for you to see."
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