Arrest made in toddler's death The boyfriend of 2-year-old Courtney Johnson's mother is charged with the West Phila. girl's murder Sunday.

Posted: October 01, 2003

Two-year-old Courtney Johnson's head was punched so hard that an imprint of a man's fist was left behind. Her stomach was struck at least three times, severely damaging her liver. An autopsy indicated the toddler died of blunt-force trauma to the head and abdomen.

Yesterday, police charged the boyfriend of Courtney's mother with murder in the youngster's death Sunday morning.

"I really can't explain why somebody would strike a child . . . especially that hard," said Capt. Charles Bloom of the Homicide Unit.

Addressing reporters at a late-afternoon news conference, Bloom said the boyfriend, Marquise Ellison, 24, of the 5300 block of Thomas Avenue in Kingsessing, was arrested on a warrant charging him with murder.

Police said Ellison was arrested after Courtney's mother, Shatara Fletcher, 26, gave a statement implicating him in the killing.

Investigators at first suspected that Courtney might have died from ingesting hot pepper seeds and possibly hot sauce over the weekend in her mother's apartment in the 800 block of South 55th Street in West Philadelphia. Although peppers were found in the child's stomach at autopsy, any possibility of accidental death was ruled out after the autopsy.

Investigators said Ellison apparently became enraged and attacked early Sunday when he found the toddler and her 1-year-old brother, Corey, getting things out of the kitchen cabinet. Investigators said it appeared that only the older child had been punched and beaten.

Paramedics answering a 4:45 a.m. call for help from a neighbor's apartment found Courtney unresponsive and rushed her to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where she was pronounced dead about 35 minutes later.

Fletcher, who was picked up Monday evening and taken to Police Headquarters for questioning, was not arrested. "At this time, we are not charging the mother," Bloom said.

Yesterday afternoon, Ellison walked into Police Headquarters at 12:35 accompanied by Homicide Detectives Thomas Augustine and Greg Rodden. He did not respond when asked by a reporter if he had killed the little girl. He was being held last night at Police Headquarters pending arraignment on the charges.

Contact staff writer Thomas J. Gibbons Jr. at 215-854-2642 or tgibbons@phillynews.com.

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