Saturday, November 1, 2014

Custodial dad convicted of murder by abuse in death of 3-year-old daughter (Clackamas County, Oregon)

An update to the killer dads and custody list. As usual the custody issues here are obscured. But previous articles have stated that dad DONALD LEE COCKRELL had "shared custody" but refused to let the daughters have any contact with their mother.

So what happens when an abusive controller has full rein? As too often happens, he basically tortures the kids. The murder victim suffered from starvation, malnutrition, dehydration, and beatings.

The mother has regained custody of the surviving daughter, which suggests she is a fit mother. But at what a cost. Not explained here is why the mother was never able to regain custody or even contact while all this was going on.

Who refused to enforce even the minimums of the shared custody agreement? What authorities ignored this ongoing abuse and looked the other way? Of course, those names are omitted.

This previous post provides additional background.

Donald Cockrell convicted of murder by abuse in death of 3-year-old daughter in Sandy

By Steve Mayes on March 01, 2013 at 1:55 PM, updated April 13, 2013 at 2:20 PM

A Clackamas County jury convicted Donald Lee Cockrell Friday of multiple counts of murder by abuse and criminal mistreatment in the death of his 3-year-old daughter, whose battered and severely malnourished body was found at Cockrell's home in Sandy.

Cockrell, who did not testify, faces at least 25 years in prison when he is sentenced at a later date. The jury found him not guilty of aggravated murder, which could have brought the death penalty.

Cockrell's fiancee, Michelle Nicole Smith, testified against him as part of a plea agreement. Smith, who admitted causing some of the girl's injuries, pleaded guilty last year to murder in the girl's death and faces a minimum of 30 years in prison.

Paramedics found Alexis Marie "Lexi" Pounder dressed in zip-up pink pajamas, lying on her back, her severely underweight body layered with bruises and scrapes, on Jan. 9, 2010. Blood vessels in Lexi's eyes had burst, leaving her eyeballs red. An autopsy concluded Lexi was the victim of homicide and battered child syndrome. She died of pneumonia and dehydration.

The autopsy report detailed "dozens and dozens of injuries to her tiny, tiny body," said prosecutor Christine Landers. Smith admitted inflicting some injuries and blamed some on Cockrell.

Defense attorneys placed responsibility for the girl's death squarely on Smith. "She's very sophisticated at covering her tracks," said defense attorney Robert L. Huggins Jr. Cockrell entrusted the care of his daughers to Smith, Huggins said. "All the evidence is Michelle did it."

Landers said Cockrell tried to blame everyone except himself. He blamed Smith, the doctors who unquestioningly provided her with prescription drugs, Smith's daughter and even Lexi for having an eating disorder.

"His disregard for his child as she deteriorated was reckless and indefensible," Landers said.

Had Cockrell taken Lexi to the doctor the night before she died, she would be alive today, Landers said.

"It was the last time he failed his daughter," Landers said.

Cockrell's trial lasted nearly a month, drawing from a witness list that included dozens of detectives, doctors, family members, social workers.

Prosecutors opened the trial by sketching Lexi's short painful life.

Lexi was one of five children who lived in the blended family. Smith and Cockrell, who met in 2008, each had two children from prior relationships and had one child together. The family lived in a messy 700-square-foot mother-in-law apartment at Smith's parents' home in a rural area near Sandy.

Lexi's life was one of constant discipline and shaming. She was incontinent and always in trouble for soiling herself. When the family went to a fast food restaurant, Lexi would be the only one who didn't get a meal. She was forced to sleep on the floor or to run as a punishment.

In the days before she died, Lexi had diarrhea and dry heaves.

Jurors got their first look at Lexi Pounder as Landers showed them photos. Lexi a happy infant, as a bruised toddler, as a skinny naked body on the medical examiner's cold metal table.

Cockrell could not claim ignorance, said prosecutor Christine Landers. Lexi weighed 21 pounds when she died. At the time, her 9-month-old half sister weighed 19 pounds. "He picked up both of those girls," Landers said.

As Lexi wasted away and endured spankings and slaps that left her body tattooed with bruises, Smith had decided to part company with Cockrell. She testified that she stopped caring about him, his children and the condition of their small apartment, which one investigator decribed as "an awful mess." Meanwhile she became fixated on maintaining her supply of oxycodone and other painkillers.

Lexi's sister, Kara Pounder, also suffered, prosecutors said. She rooted around the kitchen, where the sink was piled high with dirty dishes, eating food off the floor or out of the garbage, Landers said.

Cockrell and Smith forced Kara to sleep in a small escape-proof space, wedged between a couch and a wall. Cockrell did nothing to save his children from their beatings, Landers said. He stood by while Lexi vomited so violently that the whites of her eyes turned red as blood vessels ruptured. "That is not a normal childhood illness," Landers said.

When Lexi died at the age of 3 1/2, she weighed as much as an average 15-month-old child.

She was beaten and underfed, prosecutors said, and died when her immune system collapsed and she couldn't fight off pneumonia.

When a detective interviewing Cockrell asked what happened to Lexi, "he has no explanation of why his child was dead," Landers told the jury. His answer was that "I woke up and found my daughter dead."

The defense repeatedly attacked Smith, portraying her as an unreliable, unstable woman addicted to painkillers who cut a deal to avoid a possible death sentence. "Michelle Smith's testimony has been bought and paid for," said defense attorney Jenny Cooke.

Cooke characterized Smith as drug-addled caregiver "so stoned she couldn't see straight and an incompetent witness who couldn't remember much beyond "Donnie did it."

Cooke said torture and mistreatment did not kill Lexi Pounder; the girl was ill and developed a pneumonia that took her life. The child had been losing weight but that wasn't apparent to Cockrell, Cooke said. Some bruises and abrasions were caused by routine childhood accidents or by one of Smith's children jumping on Lexi's head, Cooke said.

"There is no evidence anyone subjected Alexis Pounder to torture" or that Cockrell withheld food or knew the girl required immediate medical care, Cooke said. "She did not die of blunt force trauma" and her injuries did not cause her death, Cooke said.

Landers summarized Cockrell's defense as "I never took care of my children. How could I know" Lexi was in such fragile condition.

"Because of the way she looked," Landers said. "Seventy five bruises on her tiny little body."

The remaining children have been placed with relatives. Lexi's mother, Heather Pounder, has custody Lexi's sister, Kara. Michelle Smith's parents have custody of the other three children.