Parents held without bail in death of Khalil Wimes

Tina Cuffie, the boy's mother, and ...
Tina Cuffie, the boy's mother, and ... (Tina Cuffie)
Posted: April 26, 2012

A medical examiner needed 61 minutes Wednesday to fully list and describe the sea of scars that covered 6-year-old Khalil Wimes' emaciated body.

"They are too numerous to put a number on," Assistant Medical Examiner Aaron Rosen said, trying to count all of Khalil's healed and recent wounds from autopsy photos.

"This is a child who had been severely beaten over a long period of time," Rosen said, adding that Khalil had 15 visible scars across his face alone.

"How many did you count on his right hand?" asked Assistant District Attorney Carolyn Naylor.

"Give me a moment," Rosen said.

"At least 14," he said, finally.

Rosen offered this grim testimony during a preliminary hearing for Khalil's parents, Tina Cuffie, 44, and Floyd Wimes, 48. After the nearly three-hour hearing, Municipal Court Judge Robert Blasi held both Wimes and Cuffie without bail on first-degree murder charges in Khalil's March 19 death.

The hearing came one day after Mayor Nutter announced that the city had removed from active casework a social worker who had regular contact with Khalil in the final months and weeks of his life.

While reviewing the agency's handling of the case, DHS will examine all other cases handled by the worker and the worker's supervisor, Nutter said.

"If systemic changes are required, we will make them," Nutter said.

Those actions were prompted by an Inquirer review that found DHS staff had missed many opportunities to rescue Khalil from abuse.

In the last eight months of his life, DHS staff assigned to two of Khalil's siblings spent time with Khalil during eight supervised visits at a DHS facility and the family's South Philadelphia apartment, where Khalil slept on a soiled plastic mattress on the floor of a latched and otherwise empty bedroom. The worker that has been placed on desk duty had visited the apartment and saw Khalil just two weeks before his death, but failed to recognize he was a child in great danger.

Khalil weighed 29 pounds when he died, which placed him in the lowest 5 percent on weight charts for boys his age.

His parents said they were "home-schooling" him.

DHS had questioned Cuffie about Khalil's appearance and schooling, but did not investigate further, The Inquirer found.

After Wednesday's hearing, First Assistant District Attorney Edward McCann, who is handling the case, said he found it "extremely troubling that someone from the outside would have seen this child in the last few weeks of his life and not made any reports."

"To weigh what he weighed, and to have the amount of injuries he had - and to have visible injuries. Clearly, he had injuries on his face, and his hands looked like he worked with cement, like he was a manual laborer."

Until he was 3, Khalil lived in the safe care of his foster parents, Alicia Nixon, and her then-husband, J. Evans. DHS had already removed seven other children from the care of Wimes and Cuffie.

But in 2009, over the fierce objections of Khalil's social worker, his court-appointed child advocate and his foster parents, Khalil was returned to Wimes and Cuffie after they had passed three drug tests, got an apartment, and took a parenting class, records show.

DHS monitored Khalil for a year after he was returned to Wimes and Cuffie, and Khalil remained healthy during that period.

Wimes and Cuffie's abuse of Khalil began immediately after the monitoring stopped in 2010, McCann said.

"I have a huge, huge problem wrapping my head around how a kid who's being cared for very well by loving parents like the Nixons ends up in the hands of monsters and ends up dead like this, and that everyone could just kind of throw up their hands and say, 'Oh, that's how the system works,' " said McCann.

"I refuse to believe that's an answer that people should accept."

McCann also handled the prosecutions of three social workers who were found criminally negligent after the 2006 death of 14-year-old Danieal Kelly, who died starved and abused and weighing just 42 pounds.

"There's a huge difference legally between this case and Danieal Kelly," McCann said. The workers in the Kelly case were specifically assigned to Kelly, and had committed acts of criminal neglect and attempted to cover up their actions.

"It's a different situation, but obviously we will investigate," he said.

The Nixons hope action will be taken against anyone who failed to protect Khalil.

"None of this would have happened if a judge hadn't made a decision to put him back in that home with those monsters," said La Reine Nixon, who was Khalil's foster grandmother. "And some of this wouldn't have happened if those workers had done something."

Wednesday's hearing provided a brutal glimpse into Khalil's life with his biological parents.

Neither Wimes nor Cuffie showed any emotion at the sight of the autopsy photos. Wimes yawned.

Khalil was covered with "loop-like scars," including one across his nose, that investigators believe came from regular beatings with belts and extension cords.

He had "linear" scars that showed beatings with other objects.

In her statement given to police after the killing, which was read into the court record by a homicide detective, Cuffie told police she beat Khalil with a belt almost every day.

Sometimes she would make him stand in the corner and then throw books and shoes at him, she said.

She would do this if Khalil was "misbehaving or messing in things he had no business in," she said.

Other times, Wimes and Cuffie would punish the sickly child by making him do "calisthenics" like sit-ups and push-ups. They locked him in his room at night.

Khalil had been vomiting constantly for months, but the couple did not take him to a doctor in more than a year. Indeed, Khalil was rarely let out of the apartment.

They were worried that a doctor would see the scars on Khalil, Wimes told police in his statement.

In his final months, Khalil vomited in his bedroom nightly. And they beat him for it, Wimes said.

"I felt like he was doing it on purpose," Wimes said.

Cuffie would often say of Khalil that "she wished she never had him," Wimes said.

This is how Cuffie described to police the final day of Khalil's life:

After she woke him around 7:30 a.m. so he could use the bathroom, Khalil slipped on the wet bathroom floor while trying to put on his pants.

"Move," Cuffie said she yelled. "Get up."

Then, she "popped" him in the back of the head, knocking him to the floor, she said.

"He fell flat on his face and split his lip," she said. "He didn't even try to break his fall."

She lugged him into the living room and knew she had hurt him.

"He wasn't responding,"she said. "He was staring right through me."

He couldn't talk and was wobbly on his feet, she said, and his arms dropped when she lifted them up.

Wimes was busy playing the video game Call of Duty, she said, but when Khalil suddenly began to scream, Wimes said "I got this" and carried the child into the bathroom and splashed water on his face.

They put him back in his bedroom and left him alone. Wimes fixed himself a steak lunch and watched Let's Make a Deal before going out.

Cuffie went to Popeye's.

When they checked on Khalil around 9:30 p.m., he didn't wake up. They finally took him to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. They told doctors he had slipped.

McCann argued in court that it did not matter whether Cuffie or Wimes struck the fatal blow; Khalil had another serious hemorrhage on his head that Rosen said had occurred earlier. It wasn't just one blow that killed Khalil, McCann said. It was all of them.

Alicia and La Reine Nixon sat in the first row during the hearing.

Khalil had called them Mommy and Mimi.

They wept the entire time .


Contact Mike Newall at 215-854-2759 or mnewall@phillynews.com.

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