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Child abuse murder trial opens
William Stewart, left, and Matea Chavez Mendez Stewart, right

The trial of a Conyers couple accused of abusing their 5-month-old baby and ultimately causing his death in 2010 began this week with opening statements lasting less than 20 minutes this morning.

Matea Stewart and Grant Stewart, who were both 21 when the incident occurred, are charged with malice murder, three counts of felony murder, two counts of cruelty to children in the first degree, aggravated battery and two counts of contributing to the deprivation of a minor.

While the two are being tried together, it was clear during opening arguments that Grant Stewart's defense will attempt to exonerate him with evidence showing he was working out of town when the baby was harmed.

Matea Stewart, who is a Rockdale County High School graduate, was pregnant when she and Grant Stewart married and he adopted the baby they named James. It was Grant Stewart who called 911 to the family's home at 362 Morris Drive on July 28, 2010 because the baby was in severe distress. The baby died the next day at Children's Heathcare of Atlanta at Egleston and an autopsy revealed the death was caused by trauma to the head, namely a 14-centimeter fracture, and that the infant had countless fractures in various stages of healing at the time of his death.

Assistant District Attorney Kirk Thomas told jurors that the state will seek to prove the Stewarts consistently harmed baby James and caused his death.

"The two people - his parents - who were charged with nurturing and protecting him are charged with his death," Assistant District Attorney Kirk Thomas told jurors. "At the end of this trail we are going to ask you to speak for James and render a verdict of guilty."

Gordon Hall, defense attorney for Matea Stewart, told jurors the evidence is going to show that stories told by Grant Stewart to different health care providers and authorities changes throughout the investigation. He also asked jurors to pay close attention to the timeline and whether the state is meeting the burden of proof as to who caused the blow that resulted in the death of the infant.

Attorney Lee Sexton is representing Grant Stewart and said evidence will show he was a long-distance driver during the time the injuries occurred but he also conducted CPR on baby James and called 911 on July 28, the day before James died.

"He was never anything but a loving father," Sexton told jurors Wednesday. He said the state indicted Grant Stewart because he should have noticed the injuries, yet four weeks before death there were no visible injuries on the child when Grant Stewart took James to a pediatrician. Sexton said the jury will see there is also no evidence that Grant Stewart was present when the injuries occurred.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday in Rockdale Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation's courtroom.