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By BOB WHITE
ELIZABETHTOWN – Danielle Lucas was never the primary caregiver for her 6-year-old son Mar’riel.
Military duty in Iraq, Hawaii and Georgia, coupled with a child support arrearage, kept the boy’s father, Leslie Lawrence, fighting to maintain visitation privileges with Mar’riel.
The first three years of the boy’s life, his aunt, LaToya Lucas, cared for him. The last half of his life, his mother’s boyfriend and now her co-defendant, Antwan Hayes, watched him.
Prosecutor LeShea Smith said, “Mar’riel was never a priority for his momma” last week in Hardin Circuit Court during the trial of Lucas and Hayes.
Both are charged with criminal abuse and murder stemming from Mar’riel’s Aug. 29, 2007, death from severe beating injuries which led to septic shock.
LaToya Lucas testified Friday that hours before Mar’riel’s death his mother spent time having drinks at O’Charley’s where she’d finished a split-shift sometime after 11 p.m. After a brief stop at her Vista Drive home to hear and see her son unconscious and sick, the mother left to take her sister to a card game on the other side of Elizabethtown.
When she returned, an ambulance was en route to pick up Mar’riel’s lifeless body. He’d lost consciousness again and was found by the mother’s boyfriend, Hayes, next to a toilet.
Hayes, according to testimony last week, asked the mother if medical help should be sought for Mar’riel before she left with her sister, but she told him not to call.
Hayes held Mar’riel in his arms outside the home as an ambulance pulled in around 3 a.m.
Mar’riel was dying.
Hayes’ attorneys, public advocates assigned to him by a Hardin County judge, maintain the boyfriend was the primary caregiver for Mar’riel the last two years of his life and say he did not inflict grave wounds to the boy.
Danielle Lucas’ attorney, Ron Hines, continued ti refer to Mar’riel’s dark skin and how it could make detection of abuse difficult for the mother or anyone else.
Prosecutors and police have maintained that Hayes beat Mar’riel to death and the mother shares guilt because she allowed continued abuse.
SCHOOL REPORTED CONCERNS. Signs of abuse had been reported to Child Protective Services by Mar’riel’s school, Helmwood Heights Elementary, three months before he died.
Teachers and his principal testified to calling CPS to report Mar’riel’s swollen face and lip. Staff at Helmwood Heights said Mar’riel was a student “to remember,” because he constantly would compliment teachers and Principal Michelle Hart on their dress and appearance.
He hugged them and they loved him.
“These are our children,” Hart said of students.
Mar’riel spent his last days in school vomiting from wounds inflicted to his abdomen.
Teacher Shannon Duff cried as she left the courthouse Thursday after describing the boy’s final days.
The school’s report of suspected abuse on May 15, 2007, was not the only time the agency was alerted to Mar’riel’s health and safety.
Another claim was phoned in to CPS by his paternal grandmother, Carolyn Carpenter, in June, after she found a healing wound on the child’s head.
Carpenter testified Thursday that her claim to CPS was not treated seriously because of her son’s interrupted custody and visitation with Mar’riel.
“They told me we’d need a court hearing before anything could be done,” she said.
In an interview after Mar’riel’s death last year, his father said he had to fight just to keep visitations with his child.
CPS ADMITS FAILURES. Christy Riley, an investigator for Child Protective Services, testified about her follow-up to the school’s report amid tears Thursday.
“(Mar’riel) made some alarming statements about being picked up the wrong way, kicked in the butt and punched in the stomach,” Riley said. “The more we talked, it came out that those things happened when they were wrestling and playing around.”
Riley said she did not interview Mar’riel’s teacher, who reported the abuse claims, and neglected a visit to Mar’riel’s home until a month after the teacher’s claims surfaced.
A letter sent to Hayes by CPS stated the claim of “neglect” was unsubstantiated by Riley’s investigation. The letter wrongly stated the claim was of neglect and not abuse. Other mistakes were found in CPS reports sent to law-enforcement agencies, including misidentifying Hayes as being Mar’riel’s father.
Riley blamed errors on a secretary and said she was unaware of CPS protocol mandating a home visit soon after claims arise. She’d worked for CPS for four years before Mar’riel’s case arose.
Riley also complained about a heavy workload, saying other cases took precedence.
Riley, who now works for CPS in LaRue County, testified she told Hayes and Lucas not to “spank” Mar’riel with anything but their hands. Having them clean what was shown in court to be a filthy, unfit home, CPS left Mar’riel with Lucas and Hayes, who now are accused of causing his death.
No other agency followed up on the unsubstantiated claims of abuse made to CPS and Riley lost photos she said were taken of Mar’riel during her investigation.
FATHER TESTIFIES. In emotional testimony Friday morning, Mar’riel’s father, Leslie Lawrence, told jurors about the final moments he spent with his son.
Mar’riel’s paternal grandmother called the father around 4 a.m. Aug. 29, 2007.
From his home in Louisville, he went to Kosair Children’s Hospital.
“I was led to his room and I saw my son with multiple I.V.’s, and a heating blanket on him. There were doctors and nurses all around him,” Lawrence said.
He took a breath and regained composure during testimony. A bailiff checked to see if Lawrence needed a break, but he went on with testimony.
“I saw he wasn’t moving,” Lawrence said. “My son was not responsive.”
Lawrence said doctors questioned Lucas if Mar’riel had crashed a bike or been involved in an auto accident. The wounds on his body spoke to medical experts.
An autopsy later showed Mar’riel had more than three dozen inflicted wounds, on top of 10 more bumps, scrapes and scratches common for a little boy.
Medical Examiner Dr. Donna Stewart testified last week that Mar’riel’s body showed unmistakable signs of “battered child syndrome.”
“A spanking would not cause these injuries,” she said.
The consolidated trials of Lucas and Hayes are slated to conclude the latter part of this week. If convicted as charged, both could spend the rest of their lives in prison. Either also might be convicted on lesser counts, including reckless homicide or manslaughter.
Hayes’ attorney, Kristin Pollock, said testimony this week will allude to others being responsible for Mar’riel’s fatal wounds.
Bob White can be reached at (270) 505-1750.