URBANA — A Champaign man faces six to 30 years in prison for injuries to his infant daughter that left her with a ruptured esophagus, broken ribs, bruised organs and internal bleeding.
A jury deliberated about four hours Friday before convicting Dwayne S. Williams, 21, of aggravated battery to a child for injuries inflicted on 2-month-old Mariyah Brothern on Nov. 2, 2012.
Judge Harry Clem set sentencing for Nov. 25. Williams put his head on the table and howled just after the verdict was read. His attorney, Alfred Ivy of Urbana, then asked Clem to poll the jury, forcing each juror individually to affirm his or her vote to find Williams guilty.
The verdict was a rejection of a claim by the child's mother, Shariya Brothern, 20, that she tripped on a sheet while carrying the baby and fell on top of her daughter — testimony that Brothern gave against the advice of the attorney representing her in a separate abuse and neglect proceeding.
Testimony was that Williams and Brothern were living with Williams' mother and his sister in an apartment in the 2400 block of North Neil Street in Champaign. Also living with them was their older son, now 2.
On Nov. 2, Mariyah, who was born prematurely, was about 2 months old.
About 10:30 p.m. that Friday, her aunt, Latesha Williams, called 911 to report that the baby was spitting up blood. The frantic call, played for the jury, featured arguing and screaming in the background between Dwayne Williams and Brothern.
Latesha Williams and her mother, Angela Williams, both testified that because Williams was upset and yelling, they told him to leave the apartment. He was not present when police and paramedics arrived.
He went to the Champaign police station on the following Monday and gave a videotaped statement to Investigator Joe Johnston, which was played for the jury. In the 30-minute statement, Williams denied having intentionally hurt his daughter but agreed with a scenario put forth by Johnston that Williams may have squeezed the baby too hard out of frustration with her frequent crying.
"I just probably held her too tight," he eventually told Johnston. "If I did that ... I'm sorry."
Williams admitted to Johnston that he had been outside at the complex drinking vodka with friends and came in the apartment to find Brothern passed out and vomiting in their bed. She had also been drinking earlier. Williams said he heard the baby crying and picked her up from a bassinet to find that she was throwing up blood. He then went to his mother's bedroom to seek her help and that's when his sister called 911.
Williams maintained he did not know what happened to cause the bleeding.
At Carle Hospital, doctors quickly concluded that the child had been abused and protective custody was taken of Mariyah and later, her older brother.
Testifying for Williams, Brothern said she never told any authorities that she had fallen on her child that night because she was "scared" and because no one had ever asked her if she fell on the baby.
Two doctors testified that the injuries were consistent with the baby being squeezed around the torso and not by someone falling on her. The pressure exerted on the infant broke ribs on each side, bruised her heart and liver, and ruptured her esophagus, they said.
"I don't want to go to jail for something I didn't really mean to do," she said.
Brothern said it was after she fell with the baby and put her in her bassinet that she began drinking vodka. She said she next remembered being awakened by an agitated Williams wanting to know why the baby was coughing up blood.
Brothern said she decided to testify about her fall with the baby because "it's not like it's his fault. It's my fault. What else could have caused her injuries," she said.
She said she was not aware of the extent of her daughter's injuries and thought her throwing up blood could have been because she was feeding her whole milk instead of formula. Brothern said they ran out of money for formula but admitted under questioning by prosecutor Scott Larson that she and Williams were drinking Grey Goose, a premium brand of vodka.
Williams also testified in his own defense, saying he didn't know how the child had been injured.
Larson had called a neonatal nurse at Carle Hospital to testify that she had instructed Williams and Brothern about the proper care and handling of Mariyah at the time they took her home in October.
Leslie Preslar said Williams asked her if there was medication that they could give the child for her frequent crying. She said she'd never had a parent ask that about a newborn in her 12 years of nursing children and infants.