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4-year-old dies after skull fracture – but stepdad claims it was an accident

A Kentucky man is on trial for murder after he allegedly abused a 4-year-old foster child to the point of death, the Courier Journal reports.

Authorities say Billy Embry-Martin is responsible for the 2017 death of 4-year-old Hunter Payton.

Undisputed is that Payton died in May 2017 with a fracture to the back of his skull. But how he got that injury is contested.

Embry-Martin, 34, asserts that he was doing the dishes on the day of the incident when Payton fell off a kitchen bench and onto the floor.

The suspect reportedly told authorities that the boy then said “me OK,” got up and took a few steps before collapsing, falling into a seizure and vomiting, according to People magazine. Embry-Martin then called 911.

But prosecutors dispute that account and allege the child’s injuries could not have come from such a short fall.

“Death. It came all too soon for Hunter Payton,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Teresa Logsdon reportedly said this week during the start of the trial in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

Assistant State Medical Examiner Dr. Amy Burrows-Beckham testified that she doesn’t believe what Embry-Martin says and reportedly described Payton’s injury as “very significant, forceful.”

“This is an injury that would make an adult cry,” Burrows-Beckham said, according to the News-Enterprise. “I seriously doubt he [Hunter] or an adult could jump up from this injury. I just don’t believe that story.”

Burrows-Beckman ruled that the child’s death was a homicide. She told the jury: “I don’t see children dying from a short distance fall,” and added: “To get this fracture, it’s a definite blow.”

The University of Louisville Division of Pediatric Forensic Medicine also concluded that the child’s injuries, which included bruises and cuts plus the skull fracture, were the product of “inflicted child abuse.”

However, defense attorney James Hafley reportedly characterized the incident as a “tragic accident and not a murder case.”

“He is a loving, patient person,” Hafley told the Courier Journal of Embry-Martin. “He is not a murder.”

Hunter was placed with Embry-Martin, a pediatric nurse, two months previously following the boy’s removal from his biological parents, who were accused of child neglect and drug abuse.

Embry-Martin and his husband, Travis, had four foster parents living with them at the time of Payton’s death; they included Payton’s younger sister and older brother.

Linda Payton, the boy’s paternal grandmother, called her grandson “an angel,” while his maternal grandmother, Willodean Cross, described the child as a “mama’s boy.” “He was the politest little boy,” she said.

Payton’s family members filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Embry-Martins, according to WDRB.