By PAUL YOUNG
A Banning man accused of fatally beating his stepson was intent on killing the toddler, whose mother stood by and did nothing to save her son, a prosecutor said today, but a defense attorney argued his client “lost his cool” and didn’t mean to cause the tot’s death.
“What happened to this little boy was horrific,” Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Kevin Beecham said in his opening statement in the trial of Andrew Lee Payne and Davia Damanique James.
“This child was hit in the kidneys over and over and over again,” the prosecutor said, as a photo of a smiling 2-year-old Robert Voorhees flashed on a projection screen. “He was admitted to the hospital with a fractured spine, a collapsed lung, cerebral edema, a herniated brain … The cause of death was multiple blunt force trauma to the head.”
Beecham said Robert was a happy, rambunctious boy, who had been fine when he visited his maternal grandparents three days before his death.
According to the prosecutor, the youngster was left under Payne’s supervision on Nov. 7, 2011, while James went to a doctor’s appointment and ran errands for most of the day. By the time the woman came home that afternoon, Robert was in his makeshift bed on the floor and appeared to be sleeping, Beecham said.
In fact, the boy was virtually comatose, unresponsive to anyone’s presence and slipping away, the prosecutor said, adding that for nearly two days, the 2-year-old was left in that condition, not receiving any food or water. On the morning of Nov. 9, James noticed Robert’s breathing was labored and called 911.
When paramedics arrived at the single-story house at 1435 W. Hays St., they initially believed the child was dead, his head hanging low, eyes half-open and a “thousand-yard stare on his face,” Beecham said. However, they heard him gasp for breath and immediately began life-saving measures.
He was declared brain dead two days later at Loma Linda University Medical Center and removed from life support.
“They asked these two defendants three times what happened,” the prosecutor told jurors. “And after the third time, Mr. Payne says, `I can’t talk about it.’ Then Ms. James says, `He slipped and hit his head in the bathroom.”’
Payne, 24, could face 25 years to life in prison and James, 23, could be sentenced to 15 years to life behind bars if convicted in the youngster’s death last Nov. 11.
Payne is charged with second-degree murder, assault on a child resulting in great bodily injury, falsifying a prescription and possession of illegal drugs. James is charged with second-degree murder and child endangerment. Both defendants are being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the county jail in Riverside.
Beecham told jurors that the “number and severity of injuries” suffered by the toddler proved that Payne intended to kill him, and James’ actions revealed her complicity.
However, Payne’s attorney, Greg Roach, told jurors that there was “no evidence” that his client gave any thought to taking the boy’s life.
“You have a couple of people in their 20s, not in good financial condition, trying to take care of a child,” Roach said. “Andrew did lose his cool. That’s how the baby died — my client lost his cool … The charge of murder doesn’t make sense.”
James’s attorney, Stuart Sachs, told the jury that she was a “devoted mother” who never harmed her son.
According to the attorney, when James came home on the afternoon of Nov. 7, she wasn’t aware of anything serious, but noticed that her son was lethargic and so allowed him to sleep.
“She felt he would get better in time,” Sachs said. “He was breathing normally. He didn’t start having breathing problems until the day after.” The attorney said James didn’t become aware of the cluster of internal injuries until doctors pointed them out to her.
“Andrew had told her that Robert hit his head on the bathroom floor,” Sachs said.
He said the case against his client boils down to what did she know, and did she care whether her son “lived or died.”