A doctor who performed an autopsy on Hunter Payton in 2017 disputed defense claims the child struck his head on a flat surface, managed to get up after the fall, walk away and speak.
Dr. Amy Burrows-Beckham, an assistant state medical examiner, testified Thursday the injury to the back right side of Hunter’s head was a “very significant, forceful injury to the head.”
“This is an injury that would make an adult cry,” Burrows-Beckham said. “I seriously doubt he (Hunter) or an adult could jump up from this injury. I just don’t believe that story.”
Hunter, 4, along with an older brother and younger sister, were three of five children living in the home of Billy Paul Embry-Martin and his husband, Travis Embry-Martin. Four of the children were in foster care at the residence, including Hunter and his siblings.
Billy Paul Embry-Martin, 34, has been charged with murder for causing Hunter’s death on May 10, 2017. He faces 20 to 50 years in prison, or life, if convicted.
He was the only adult at the home the day Hunter reportedly suffered a fatal injury.
In a recorded 911 call and a video interview with Radcliff police played for jurors Wednesday, Embry-Martin said Hunter was sitting on a bench at a dinner table next to his sister. When he went to place dishes in a dishwasher, he heard a “thud” from where Hunter was sitting, he said. He looked that way and he said Hunter got up and said, “Me OK,” and then went into a living room, had a seizure, vomited and collapsed.
Hunter died less than two days later.
Burrows-Beckham performed an autopsy May 11, 2018. She said she left Hunter’s cause of death as “pending” because she wanted to make sure all testing on the child was complete.
“Unfortunately, testing takes time and it can just take a very long time for some of these complicated cases,” she said. Burrows-Beckham said she waited on a neuro pathology report before making a final determination.
The final report was filed Dec. 27, 2017.
“It’s my opinion that Hunter Payton died of an inflicted closed head injury,” she said.
She ruled the case a homicide. Fifteen days later, Embry-Martin was charged and arrested. He was released on bond from the Hardin County Detention Center on Feb. 6, 2018.
She said the chances of an injury such as Hunter’s happening for any reason other than hitting or being hit by a sharp object she estimated at 1 in 2 million.
“I can say that Hunter did not hit a flat surface,” she told defense attorney James Hafley during his questioning of her.
In a follow-up question during her 90 minutes or so of testimony, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Teresa Logsdon asked Burrows-Beckham, “Can you imagine any scenario where this floor would have caused this injury?”
She replied, “No, ma’am.”
Hunter had a depressed skull fracture, she said. She described his brain as “very swollen.”
“The amount of force being applied to the skull to cause the fracture impacted the brain,” she said.
“To get this fracture, it’s a definite blow,” she testified.
She estimated if Hunter did fall from his seat, it would have been no more than a fall of 4-feet-2 inches — 26 inches from the bench and 24 inches from Hunter’s head to the seat.
“I don’t see children dying from a short distance fall,” she said.
Hunter’s body also had multiple areas of bruising. Burrows-Beckham said his bruising didn’t contribute to his death.
Among the areas discovered during the autopsy were his right cheek and right cheek bone; four bruises on his left cheek; and on each side of his chest and side.
She said medical treatment by Hardin County EMS or at Hardin Memorial Hospital or Norton Children’s Hospital had no impact on the child’s bruising.
“Bruises to his face are consistent with a hand being applied to a face,” she testified.
Burrows-Beckham admitted under cross examination that there was no way to know when the bruises may have occurred. The trial continues today at the Hardin County Justice Center.