Prosecutor: 'What first-degree murder looks like'

Jaquinn Brewton died while in his god- mother's care.
Jaquinn Brewton died while in his god- mother's care.
Posted: August 11, 2013

At the start of her closing arguments in the death of 3-year-old Jaquinn Brewton, a prosecutor Friday set an empty stroller in front of the jury.

Jaquinn's dirty, rickety white stroller.

Then, Assistant District Attorney Bridget Kirn displayed a photo of the child's cardboard toy box. In it were a tattered teddy bear - one of his few toys - and a metallic cooking blowtorch. The same torch prosecutors say Nadera Batson used to burn Jaquinn - who was speech delayed, not three and a half feet tall, and weighing only 32 pounds - as punishment for spitting up food and potty training before she beat the little boy to death in June 2011.

In court, Kirn pulled the blowtorch from an evidence bag, and held it aloft for the jurors.

"This is the value she held for him," Kirn said. "She did nothing but torture him."

During a four-day trial, Kirn laid out a brutal existence that she said Jaquinn endured during the three months he lived with his godmother, Batson, and her boyfriend, Marcus King, in a filthy West Philadelphia boarding room.

According to testimony, Batson beat Jaquinn daily with her hands, shoes, belts, and a metal hair pick that she dragged across his skin. She poured boiling liquid on his feet, causing second-degree burns and so much swelling that he could not walk or wear shoes. And she used the blowtorch on his behind when he didn't make it to his potty. Autopsy photos showed a sea of scars, burns, and bruises across the child's body.

Batson, who told police Jaquinn fell down a flight of steps, faces life in prison if found guilty. The jury will begin deliberations Monday. King, who admitted striking Batson on occasions, pleaded to third-degree murder. He testified that Batson administered the fatal beating, lacerating the boy's pancreas and spleen, because he would not go to sleep.

Documents obtained by The Inquirer show that the child slipped through the grasp of the city's child welfare agency.

Jaquinn's mother, Ashley Brewton, told the Department of Human Services in March 2011 that Batson had offered to take the child after Brewton moved into a homeless shelter with three of her other children. She told DHS she did not know exactly where Batson had taken her son.

DHS took no action to find the child and failed to alert the police that he was missing, according to a state-mandated review of Jaquinn's death.

The review criticized DHS for not consulting with its law department to take possible court action to find Jaquinn. It said the agency violated policy by missing several monthly visits with Jaquinn, and faulted DHS for failing to complete two previous abuse investigations involving his family within the required 60-day time frame.

The report recommended that the agency revise its policy on searching for missing children.

The agency's failure to file a missing-person report proved critical.

Three days before Jaquinn was fatally beaten, a West Philadelphia police officer stopped Batson as she walked him through a parking lot. The child's hair was disheveled and overgrown, and his left foot, covered only in a sock, looked swollen.

The officer, Teresa Sanchious, testified that she called DHS numerous times that afternoon, but could only reach an answering machine. She said she left a message with her cellphone number and the number of the 18th District, but never heard back.

When she returned to work three days later, she learned that Jaquinn was in the hospital, brain-dead.

She visited the child in the hospital, she testified, in tears.

Alicia Taylor, a DHS spokeswoman, said Thursday the agency has since steps to reinforce its policies on locating missing children.

In response to Sanchious' testimony, Taylor said the agency had begun an internal investigation but had found no records of calls made to the agency abuse hotline involving Jaquinn in the days before his death.

In court Friday, Batson's attorney, Lee Mandell, acknowledged that Batson was guilty of crimes, but argued that she did not have a "specific intent" to kill the child - a requirement for first-degree murder.

"I am not standing before you now and telling you that young lady did not do some terrible things. She did," he said, before asking jurors not to let emotion cloud their judgment.

Kirn, for her part, said the months of unending abuse and pain Batson had inflicted on Jaquinn were clear evidence of her intent.

She had one final picture to show. It had two images:

A happy, smiling Jaquinn before the abuse started, and next to it, a medical examiner's photo of the child's broken and battered body.

"This, ladies and gentlemen, is what first-degree murder looks like," she said. "And I beg of you to deliver justice."


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

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