A Dougherty County man who killed his girlfriend’s 13-month-old boy by slamming his head against a hard surface appealed to the state’s top court to regain his freedom.
Mr. Tony Orlando Whitaker said there were several errors in his case and that his constitutional rights were violated.
But on Tuesday, the Georgia Supreme Court disagreed and upheld his sentence to life in prison for the 1999 murder, according to court records.
“The high court has rejected each of the man’s claims of error, including that a 10-year delay from the time he requested a new trial until there was a hearing on his motion violated his constitutional rights to due process,” the records show.
“Despite the delay, the high court finds it did not damage – or prejudice the man’s case.”
Investigators said on May 17, 1999 Ms. Shonda Sweet left her twin 13-month-old boys with Mr. Whitaker while she went on a job interview and then to Florida with a friend.
The babies were recovering from a cold and she had left them cleaned, dressed and in the middle of the couple’s bed sleeping, according to the court records.
But on her way home that evening, a police officer called Ms. Sweet and asked her to come to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital where she learned that Darrius was dead.
The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy testified at trial that there was swelling and a “patterned” injury on the back of the baby’s head of three separate vertical lines that suggested he had been slammed into an uneven surface, according to the records.
“The bruises on his forehead indicated grip marks where someone grabbed the child’s head and squeezed vigorously, or knuckle marks where somebody’s rapped a knuckle on the head, or even knuckle marks in terms of punching,” the pathologist said.
“The baby had skull fractures, damage to his brain, including hemorrhages and swelling of the brain, and fresh bruises along his buttocks, back and head, caused by blunt force trauma from “shaking and impact.”
The pathologist stated the baby would have died within 30 minutes and the injuries were inconsistent with a simple fall off the bed as Mr. Whitaker had claimed when questioned about the child’s injuries.
In January 2000, a jury found Mr. Whitaker guilty of felony murder and cruelty to children, the records show.
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