The murder trial of a young Conyers couple accused of abusing their five-month-old baby and ultimately causing his death in 2010 began Wednesday and is expected to last most of next week.
Over the last three days, jurors heard testimony from law enforcement authorities and medical professionals whose testimony helped paint a picture of the events surrounding the July 28, 2010 tragedy. As of press time Friday, the child’s maternal grandmother was tearfully testifying on the witness stand with assistance from a translator.
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. They are being tried together in Rockdale Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation’s courtroom.
“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 in opening statements Wednesday. “At the end of this trail we are going to ask you to speak for James and render a verdict of guilty.”
The couple had only been married since January of 2010 when she gave birth to a boy they named James that February. On July 28, 2010, the couple called 911 to the family’s home at 362 Morris Drive because the baby was in severe respiratory distress. The infant died the next day and an autopsy revealed the death was caused by trauma to the head, namely a 14-centimter fracture. The couple was arrested and charged on August 19, 2010.
Grant Stewart, who was not the biological father but adopted the baby when he was born, told authorities he found the infant in his crib with a towel wrapped around his face approximately 30 minutes after he had placed him in the crib because the baby was fussy. It was a chest X-ray taken at Rockdale Medical Center after the baby had been intubated that doctors spotted “countless” fractures in various stages of healing. The baby was stabilized and transferred to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston where he died the next day.
While very little has been said so far about Grant Stewart, prosecution witnesses ranging from sheriff’s deputies, emergency responders, nurses, doctors and a children services case worker have described their initial interactions with Matea Stewart. Defense attorney Lee Sexton is representing Grant Stewart and told jurors “he was never anything but a loving father.” Matea Stewart, who is represented by attorney Gordon Hall, told investigators the same thing in her initial interview, which was conducted before authorities told her of their suspicions of child abuse.
“He loves to take care of him (James),” Matea Stewart told Rockdale Sheriff’s Department Investigator Amanda Pilgrim in an interview taken just hours after the 911 call and played for jurors Friday. “He likes to take care of him, and when he comes home from work, he says it’s his turn to take care of him. He is a gentleman.”
In that same interview, Matea Stewart admits the infant had fallen off the couch twice in the months before his death and once had a fever of 103, none of which the couple sought medical treatment for. Within that same interview, she said she had not noticed anything irregular about the baby and said, “besides the fussiness he has become very whiny,” repeating the fact that he had been fussy three times within the interview.
But in another recording played Friday, which Judge Nation ruled against letting the jury view, Matea Stewart was distraught when the investigator stepped out of the room and Grant Stewart entered, which was the first time the couple was alone after authorities told Matea Stewart they suspect the child had been harmed. She attempted to hit Grant Stewart and asks him if anything happened when he placed the infant in his crib that afternoon.
“If something happens to him, I will kill you,” Matea Stewart told a calm Grant Stewart in the interview room.
He then told her he loved James and urged her not to believe what the investigators were telling her and to instead to wait to hear what the doctors say.
“They will follow up on all this and we will find out what is the problem, if there is a problem,” Grant Stewart said in response. The recording was taken six hours after the incident after the baby had been transported to Atlanta.
Further testimony given Friday included information that the Stewarts lived with Matea Stewart’s sister and mother and the baby was primarily cared for by Matea.
The afternoon ended with a tearful Norma Menendez telling the court that James was her first grandchild who she rarely got to see due to her work schedule. She said while she often witnessed Matea Stewart interacting with the baby, she never saw Grant Stewart holding James. In her testimony, it was also revealed that Matea Stewart has a twin brother who is also currently incarcerated.
The trial is expected to resume at 9 a.m. Monday and as of Friday afternoon, Matea Stewart is expected to testify in her own defense. For updates on the trial, visit rockdalenews.com.