MANATEE — A jury decided to wait until today to render a verdict for a 23-year-old man charged with first-degree murder who is accused of beating a 2-year-old boy to death using a fly swatter and a belt.
Dwight A. Baldwin took the stand during his trial Thursday, admitting he beat Tez-arrion Armour, who was in his care Oct. 27, 2008, after the child soiled himself.
“I didn’t cause the injuries to put him there,” said Baldwin, referring to the child getting hospitalized and later dying at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. “I know I didn’t cause injuries to put him in there with three hits with a fly swatter. ... I know how to discipline a kid. I didn’t do it outrageously.”
Baldwin and his girlfriend, 27-year-old Audrey Lawrence, were in charge of caring for the child because the child’s biological mother was struggling with a cocaine addiction at the time.
The jury was given instructions Thursday by Judge Thomas Gallen just before 4:30 p.m., and it returned a couple of hours later stating they wanted to take today to review several pieces of evidence from the case, including Baldwin’s interview with investigators at Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, and review transcripts from where investigators planted a recording device in a patrol car to record a conversation between Baldwin and Lawrence.
Deliberations will begin today after jurors’ questions are answered.
Assistant State Attorney Ed Brodsky grilled Baldwin on his actions.
Baldwin placed Tez-arrion on a training toilet and continued to beat the child after the child fell asleep, according to statements in court.
“Tez-arrion tries to protect himself when I’m doing that,” Baldwin said. “So I have to lay him on his hands.”
Brodsky replied, “What you did is make him defenseless to your beatings.”
Over the course of a few hours, the child continued to receive beatings.
Baldwin had positioned the training toilet close to the bed, from where he continued to beat the child, according to prosecutors.
“You don’t want him to sleep, but it’s OK for you to sleep,” Brodsky said.
Baldwin replied, “I put him on the pot. He used the bathroom. That was his punishment.”
Carolyn Schlemmer, a public defender who is representing Baldwin, said her client admits he struck the child, but stressed he never hit the child in the head.
She argued in court Baldwin took the blame in order to protect his girlfriend from receiving further charges. Lawrence took a deal for a lesser sentence to testify against Baldwin. She served 364 days in jail for aggravated child abuse.
“We talked about it. It was basically me taking everything,” Baldwin said on the stand. “They can’t do anything else. She already took a plea deal.”
The beatings occurred in at least three separate incidents lasting from about 8 a.m. until about noon when paramedics had to be called when Tez-arrion stopped breathing, according to court statements. The couple told emergency personnel Tez-arrion was suffering from asthma.
Audio recordings in a patrol car between Baldwin and Lawrence show Baldwin admitting guilt, prosecutors argued.
“I’m sorry, I need help,” Baldwin said in the recording, according to Brodsky. “I’m sorry for what happened. I’m going to pray for him tonight. I’m going to pray for myself.”
Evidence presented in trial included Tez-arrion’s Spider-Man pajamas, a fly swatter broken into two pieces, a black belt and photos of the child’s injuries.
Lawrence began putting cold water on the child to try to revive him, according to statements.
When authorities began investigating, Baldwin initially stated he never struck the child. He later changed his story and admitted he hit the boy.
Lawrence and Baldwin were the only adults inside the residence at the time.
Schlemmer argued in closing arguments, “It’s clear he has been trying to pro- tect Audrey Lawrence. ... He said, ‘I’ll take (the blame for) his broken arm.’ (Tez-arrion) never had a broken arm. That shows you he took something he didn’t even know about.”
Schlemmer cited letters sent from Lawrence to Baldwin that stated Baldwin was innocent and never seriously harmed Tez-arrion.
An emergency room doctor at Manatee Memorial Hospital who treated Tez-arrion testified earlier this week the child had blood in his urine, low body temperature and multiple injuries, including bruises, and appeared to be in a state of shock and near death.
The child was unable to breathe on his own and was transferred to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, where he later died.
The child died from head injuries; he had brain swelling and bleeding.
“The last vision Tez-arrion had was in (an 11-year-old’s room) at the end of a belt,” Brodsky said in his closing argument. “I ask that you let the verdict speak the truth.”