A Virginia couple charged in the beating death of the woman’s young disabled daughter forced the girl to stand up for hours and fed her only bread and water in the days leading up to her death, a prosecutor said.
Latoya Smith, 33, and Demont James Harris, 43, were denied bond as they face murder and child abuse charges. Prosecutor Paula Bruns revealed the pair are blaming one another for 11-year-old Heaven Watkins’ death, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, emergency crews found the unresponsive tween—who has cerebral palsy and autism—unresponsive at her Norfolk home. The girl was pronounced dead at the scene.
Since then, the Office of the Norfolk Medical Examiner determined Watkins died from blunt force trauma to the head and torso and had sustained 12 to 13 old fractures and two to three new ones. Officials said Harris had beat Watkins so badly that her intestine had ruptured during the unthinkable attack, the Pilot reported.
Bruns said witnesses told investigators that Harris kicked Watkins in the head, neck, and back on multiple instances. The couple also forced Watkins to stand against a wall for hours and only fed her bread and water for the three to four days before her death, she said.
However, defense attorney Lenita Ellis argued that Harris found Watkins unresponsive on the day in question and administered CPR until arriving crews determined she was already dead. Ellis claimed they’re considering challenging the cause of death provided by the medical examiner.
Ellis also accused Smith of being the one who implemented the bread and water diet. Harris would sneak Watkins peanut butter and meat when her mother wasn’t home, the defense attorney said.
Harris, Smith, and Smith’s three daughters reportedly moved from Minnesota to Virginia nine months earlier. Reports indicated that Smith has a son who chose to live with his aunt instead of with his mother.
Alarmingly, WVEC reported that their abuse of Watkins dated back to when they lived in Minnesota.
In late February, Watkins was reportedly hospitalized for six days and underwent skin graft surgery after Harris allegedly placed her hand under hot water until she was burned. According to WTKR, the pair was recently charged in connection with that incident. It remains unclear whether Child Protective Services got involved at the time.
The agency took custody of Smith’s 6- and 8-year-old daughters in light of Watkins’ death. Relatives told the news station that an aunt will be caring for the two girls.
[Featured image: Latoya Smith, Demont Harris/Norfolk Police Department; Heaven Watkins/WAVY video screenshot]