Baby’s Dad Acquitted of Beating

Published: 7 March 1997

Baby’s Dad Acquitted of Beating

Jurors say they couldn’t pinpoint who hurt infant; Hamilton says she’s ‘very disappointed.’

Two jurors said there just wasn’t enough evidence to convict Desmond Matthews of charges he beat and severely injured his 2-month-old son.

Matthews dropped heavily into his courtroom chair Thursday shortly after he heard a Shawnee County District Court reporter read the verdicts acquitting him of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery.

Two jurors said the jury was unable to pinpoint who harmed DaShawn Matthews, the defendant’s infant son, and when the child was injured.

Much of the testimony dealt with when the infant was injured. A series of doctors called by prosecutors said the baby was injured six to 12 hours before Matthews took him to a doctor’s office for a scheduled appointment at about noon Sept. 19.

The infant suffered brain injuries, one or two skull fractures, seven rib fractures, a fractured collar bone and leg injuries.

Juror Charlene Ryans said the time question “left us with doubt as to when it actually did happen. We couldn’t convict him because we didn’t feel like we knew.”

A male juror who declined to be identified said jurors acquitted Matthews because the charges weren’t proved “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the legal standard for a criminal case.

There wasn’t any doubt the infant had been harmed, the juror said, but who did it wasn’t proved. Because the time question couldn’t be agreed on, it was impossible to focus on who injured the child because there were other people around DaShawn, he said.

As the verdicts were read, Matthews, 19, Topeka, stood flanked by assistant public defenders Kris Lawless and Cindy Sewell. As the second not guilty verdict was read, Lawless and Sewell each grabbed one of Matthews’ arms. Matthews and his attorneys had tears in their eyes.

His head down, Matthews rocked forward and back after sitting in his chair.

Lawless and Sewell declined to comment on the acquittals.

“I’m very disappointed for DaShawn,” District Attorney Joan Hamilton said, adding that prosecutors couldn’t have done any more. Hamilton and Mike McElhinney, an assistant district attorney, prosecuted the case.

Even if jurors believed the longer time frame, the infant’s primary care giver was Matthews, Hamilton said.

“We wouldn’t have proceeded if we hadn’t thought we were going against the right person. Nobody now will ever be held accountable for his injuries,” Hamilton said.

She said prosecutors would do all they could to ensure that DaShawn, now 71/2 months old, isn’t returned to an unsafe environment.

Hamilton said she would oppose returning the child to his mother, Krista Smock, or Matthews.

Smock’s mother, Debbie Simmons, complained Matthews was acquitted because Hamilton had overcharged him in the case.

Smock, 18, was convicted of endangering a child and was placed on two years of probation. She originally was charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery. As a result of plea negotiations, the attempted murder charge was amended to endangering a child, and the aggravated battery charge was dismissed.

After the verdicts, Matthews was returned to the Shawnee County Jail because he faces outstanding city warrants. He has been jailed since his arrest in September.

Matthews didn’t testify during the nine-day trial, and the infant was never brought to court. The jury of six men and six women deliberated a little less than four hours before returning the verdicts.

The bulk of the trial, which was under the jurisdiction of the Shawnee County District Court, was conducted in a federal courtroom at the Frank Carlson Federal Building because a rash of bomb threats interrupted two days of the trial.

© Copyright 1997 The Topeka Capital-Journal

By Steve Fry

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