A Rockdale County man was convicted Thursday for the vicious 2011 murder of his girlfriend's 2-year-old son.
The jury deliberated for just three hours before finding James Sims, 24, guilty on all charges including malice murder, two counts of felony murder, cruelty to children and aggravated battery. He could face life in prison if convicted.
"We are very pleased that justice was served," said Assistant District Attorney Dabney Kentner after the verdict was read. "It was a tragic situation, but I hope this will provide some closure for Trista Myneer and her family."
Myneer had been dating Sims for about a year and the couple moved to Arbor Creek Apartments on Main Street in December of 2010. She had only recently gained custody of 2-year-old Cayden Allen and he had only lived with the couple for 11 days before Myneer left him with Sims while she worked at Burger King on April 8, 2011. Sims called 911 around 6 p.m. because the child was unconscious.
Testimony given by medical experts who were involved in the case described a brutal assault on the infant. On day two of the three-day trial, pictures were presented showing Cayden Allen suffered severe brain trauma, which doctors said was comparable to a high-impact auto accident.
Sims had first maintained the child fell backwards onto a foam pad laying on top of carpet but changed his story when he took the stand in his own defense Thursday. He testified that Cayden Allen slipped from his hand while he was picking him up and fell backwards onto the carpet. As Assistant District Attorney Dabney Kentner grilled Sims about the numerous injuries to the front of the child's head, the defendant refused to look at the photos and vehemently denied hurting the baby.
"I'm not looking at those pictures...I'm not looking at the autopsy pictures," Sims said. "It is bad enough that the last time I saw him, he was unconscious. I'm not going to look at them because I didn't do them (the injuries)."
An autopsy revealed Cayden Allen suffered numerous injuries to his head, back and genital areas, with the cause of death being blunt force trauma to the head. He was removed from life support and died three days after the incident.
The child's mother Trista Myneer, and her sister testified Wednesday for the prosecution with both women describing separate incidents each had witnessed involving Sims and Cayden Allen. Trista Myneer testified that Sims had spanked the child once and she had threatened to take her son and leave if it occurred again. Her sister, Nekia Myneer, testified that she once heard Sims yell at the child and tell him that he would spank him if he didn't eat.
Dr. Gregory Pine also testified Wednesday about his examination of Cayden Allen when the completely unconscious infant arrived at the Rockdale Medical Center emergency room before being airlifted to Egleston. Dr. Pine said the baby's breathing sounded like snoring, which he said was indicative of a severe brain injury, and he had bruising and swelling of the head.
"He was almost dead," Dr. Pine said. "He would have died soon if we had not slowed down his death by breathing for him essentially and putting him on a ventilator." He also said the injuries did not appear to be accidental and appear to have been inflicted within the previous hour or two.
Dr. Jordan Greenbaum of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta also provided details of Cayden Allen's condition during the last days of his life. An expert in forensic pathology and child maltreatment, Dr. Greenbaum said her examination on the morning of April 9, 2011 of the deeply comatose, very ill child revealed numerous injuries on several areas of his body. She testified the infant had bruising and trauma on his face and scalp, the top of the head, his forehead, his hip, the pubic and genital region, his shoulder and his back. He also had dot-like areas of bleeding on back of each eye.
"The child is almost three so he is going to have some bruising on him," Dr. Greenbaum said. "One would expect bruising on his shins, but we don't expect to see a lot of bruising on protected areas. It is very unusual to have that much bruising on the child. There was no good explanation for all those injuries." She said her opinion was there were multiple severe impacts to the head and the circumstances surrounding the injuries disprove the story told by Sims.
Last to testify was Dr. Geoffry Smith of the DeKalb County Medical Examiner's Office, who ruled the death of Cayden Allen a homicide after his autopsy found a hemorrhage occupied most of the scalp and the infant's brain was "distinctly abnormal and very swollen."
"This child was assaulted by another individual," Dr. Smith said. "This is not a child who is going to sustain these injuries, cry a little bit, and then get up and speak." He ruled the cause of death as blunt force head trauma with delayed complications.
As part of their evidence prosecutors also showed jurors text messages between Sims and Trista Myneer sent on the day of the incident. Conyers Police Detective Kenneth Swift briefly took the stand to testify about the text messages, which started on the afternoon of April 8, 2011 with discussions about a problem with the couple's car and ended with Sims texting Myneer "I messed up."
The case was tried in Rockdale Superior Court Judge David Irwin's courtroom with Assistant District Attorneys Dabney Kentner and Paul Stalcup prosecuting. No date has been confirmed for the sentencing hearing although it is expected to take place in October.