Sunday, October 26, 2014

Custodial dad, girlfriend to stand trial for torture-murder of 2-year-old daughter (Stockton, California)

Another update on a case we have been following for the last few months. STILL no word on what happened to this little girl's mother or how/why the father was able to gain and retain custody despite CONSTANT allegations of abuse to the authorities from family and neighbors.

Dad is identified as DWIGHT SLAY, JR.

Couple to stand trial in toddler's death

By Jennie Rodriguez-Moore
Record Staff Writer

Posted Sep. 3, 2014 @ 12:01 am

STOCKTON — The image of a toddler’s body with ligature marks on her neck and covered in bruises is not easy to erase.

That is according to a judge who has ordered a Stockton couple to trial in the death of a 2-year-old child found asphyxiated and with numerous injuries inside their home.

The toddler’s biological father, 27-year-old Dwight Slay Jr., and his girlfriend, 30-year-old Latima Denise Coleman, are accused of child abuse resulting in death, torture and corporal injury to a child, facing a potential life sentence in prison if convicted on those charges. Slay additionally faces one count of willful cruelty to a child.

Superior Court Judge Bernard Garber heard testimony in a four-day preliminary hearing and decided Tuesday there was enough evidence to show Slay and Coleman can be tried in the slaying of toddler Tafari Barris.

County Chief Medical Examiner Bennett Omalu described injuries that demonstrated an ongoing pattern of abuse to the child, including scars on her lips, contusions, prior head trauma and a broken arm.

“Those were not fatal wounds,” he said.

Her ultimate demise was due to asphyxiation and blunt force trauma to the head, according to Omalu, whose findings also show Tafari had been smothered.

“A child of that age, she just had too many scars on her body,” Omalu said.

Pictures of Tafari's battered body were shown on a projector screen during the hearing, at one point causing Coleman to tear up.

Garber said he believes the autopsy findings will have an "incredible effect" on a jury if the case goes that far.

“That’s an image that’s difficult to remove from your mind,” he said.

Prosecutors allege the couple had abused Tafari since at least January and evidence presented in court indicates Slay’s sister had been trying to obtain custody of the child because of the abuse.

Public records also reveal that both law enforcement and social workers responded to the couple’s home multiple times for reports of possible abuse from neighbors and family members.

Authorities even upgraded the investigation to an “at-risk” missing person on April 2 following failed attempts to find Tafari.

She was found dead April 6 by emergency responders at the couple’s home in the Sierra Vista housing development after a 911 call was placed reporting the child was unresponsive.

There are witness accounts that are inconsistent with one another from friends who testified they had been at the home the day Tafari died.

Juan Prado, one of the friends, testified he had been drinking at the residence the night before the 911 call, when Slay went upstairs with Tafari. He said Coleman, he and another woman stayed downstairs.

Prado said he grew tired of waiting for Slay and decided to go upstairs to say he was leaving.

“I heard a funny noise,” Prado said, adding that it sounded like a belch. “It had to be the baby.”

Prado said he saw Tafari lying on her belly; vomit on the floor; and Slay standing over the vomit.

According to Prado, Slay said, “she’s just sick bro.”

Prado said he learned Tafari was dead the next day.

Coleman’s defense attorney Rick Gibson argued Tuesday that Prado’s testimony shows his client is not responsible for Tafari’s death. He also argued that Omalu’s findings that the child had vomit in her lungs from suffocation support Prado’s account.

Deputy Public Defender Patrick Smalling, who is representing Slay, contended Prado’s testimony was unreliable because he had “numerous” beers and admittedly ingested marijuana on the evening in question.

Despite the lack of direct evidence, Deputy District Attorney Angela Hayes said the defendants were placed alone with the child by witnesses between April 6 and the night before. Both would be responsible as either a perpetrator or as an aider.

Hayes said Slay could have easily given the child to his sister instead of abusing her.

Coleman and Slay are both scheduled to return to court Sept. 15 for arraignment on the charges.