Testimony begins in trial of father accused of killing 4-year-old son

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NEW BOSTON, Texas:  A medical examiner, members of law enforcement and the older brother of a 4-year-old who died of a traumatic brain injury testified in an accused father’s capital murder trial Wednesday in Bowie County.

Benearl Jermane Lewis, 25, is charged with capital murder in the death of his son, D’Money Lewis. He faces life without parole if convicted as the state is not seeking the death penalty.

In opening statements Wednesday morning, Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards told the jury that a Child Protective Services care plan forbid Benearl Lewis from being alone with D’Money and his three siblings or spending the night in their home. But on March 6, the day D’Money suffered a brain injury from which he’d never recover, Benearl Lewis was left in charge of 4-year-old D’Money and his now 7-year-old brother.

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Michelle Neal testified she was working for Arkansas Department of Family Services in December 2016 when she was sent to interview D’Money at his grandmother’s home. Neal said D’Money appeared frightened of speaking in front of his mother and that when alone he expressed fear of his father.

“He spoke almost in a whisper as if he was afraid someone might hear,” Neal testified.

Arkansas investigators closed their case after Benearl Lewis and Khadijah Wright, D’Money’s mother, moved to Texas. Wake Village Elementary School teacher Makki Currie and Assistant Principal Andrew McCarter testified about their observations and actions Feb. 20, just a few weeks before D’Money was hospitalized with a fatal brain injury.

Currie said D’Money came to school that morning with bruising around his eye and that when she asked him about it, he claimed to have hurt himself in the school cafeteria. Currie said D’Money’s explanation didn’t make sense because he hadn’t been in the cafeteria and that he eventually told her he hit his head during a “whooping” from his father and had been coached by his parents to say he’d hurt himself at school.

Currie said she contacted the child abuse hotline as required by law but that a member of Texas Child Protective Services did not come to the school to speak to her about the report. Currie said she called the hotline a second time that day after touching the top of D’Money’s head made the boy wince in pain.

McCarter said he spoke to D’Money that day as well and that his interaction led him to call the child abuse hotline too. McCarter said he was unaware of the CPS care plan concerning Benearl Lewis and testified that Benearl Lewis picked D’Money up from school.

A co-worker of Wright’s testified that Wright did not punch out before speeding away at about 2 p.m. in her car March 6 hours before quitting time. A couple of hours after that Benearl Lewis stopped at a traffic accident on 7th Street being worked in Texarkana, Texas.

Officer Brent Hobbs testified that he heard a quick honk from a car’s horn and the sound of gravel crunching as a man walked up to his patrol unit on the side of the road. Hobbs said Benearl Lewis asked for an escort to the hospital and told him he had a child in the car who wasn’t breathing.

Hobbs said he immediately asked dispatchers to send back the fire truck and ambulance that had just departed the car accident scene.

“I recall everything was in a frenzy,” Hobbs testified. “I could not find a pulse at all. He was cold to the touch.”

Hobbs and members of the Texarkana, Texas, Fire Department testified they frantically searched for a surface on which to begin administering CPR to the boy and ultimately began doing so in the floorboard of the fire truck. When an ambulance transporting one of the crash victims returned to the scene, Lifenet paramedics jumped into action. A second ambulance arrived and took D’Money to Wadley Hospital in Texarkana.

Because the parents told officials D’Money had been injured at their home on Redwater Street in Wake Village, detectives from that community were called in to investigate.

Wake Village Interim Police Chief Todd Aultman testified that he and Detective Jody Stubbs photographed “strap marks” and bruises on the child’s legs, back, arm and head while he lay in a bed on life support at the hospital.

Doctor Mark McCrary testified that he does not believe D’Money’s injuries were caused by a fall from a deep freezer as the parents told him at the hospital. McCrary said a CT scan revealed a massive and devastating head injury.

Medical Examiner Candice Shoppe testified under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp that she is certain D’Money’s injuries were not caused by a fall from a 34-inch chest freezer. Shoppe said D’Money was struck multiple times on the day his brain was fatally injured and that he suffered damage to internal organs in his abdomen as well.

Shoppe said D’Money had old scars on his inner thighs consistent with child abuse and new bruising to his back that is atypical for a child injured during play.

Shoppe testified as photos of “belt-like” injuries to D’Money’s legs were shown and said it was more likely that D’Money was hit with something or forced against something than it was that his injuries were caused by a fall.

The last witness to take the stand Wednesday was D’Money’s 7-year-old brother.

The brother testified via closed circuit television Wednesday afternoon that “daddy” was making him and D’Money do push-ups as punishment on the day D’Money was injured. Under questioning from Richards, the brother testified that a hole in a wall in his home was caused when Benearl Lewis threw D’Money against it. The boy also said Benearl Lewis has “two belts that he uses.”

Under questioning from Texarkana defense attorney Derric McFarland, the boy said D’Money had fallen from a freezer when his mother was at home.

Fifth District Judge Bill Miller released the jury Wednesday evening with instructions to return to court Thursday morning.

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