Child abuse charge in toddler's death could be upgraded to homicide

Charges of cruelty to children in the second degree may be brought in a case against Mary Katherine Smith as early as next week.



A Hephzibah woman facing a child abuse charge in the recent death of her 2-year-old son might face indictment on a more serious charge.

At the conclusion of a preliminary hearing Tuesday in Richmond County Civil Court, Chief Judge William D. Jennings III ruled that probable cause existed to bind over Mary Katherine Smith on a charge of cruelty to children in the second degree.

Assistant District Attorney Shawn Merzlak, however, told the judge that his boss is working with the lead investigator to take a homicide case against Smith, 39, to the grand jury as early as next week.

Jennings denied a request to release Smith on bond but said he would reconsider that decision if Smith isn’t indicted quickly.

Smith has been held in custody since July 31, a day after her son, Jason Tucker Smith, arrived at the hospital with injuries that the physicians believe is inconsistent with Smith’s account of what happened.

The child was on life support until his Aug. 3 death.

Investigator Walter Garrison testified Tuesday that a preliminary autopsy report indicates the toddler had bruising on his left temple, massive hemorrhaging on the left side of his brain and behind both eyes, a baseball-size knot on the back of his head and nine old rib fractures. The bruising to the left side of the child’s face was shaped like a palm print, Garrison testified.

The preliminary cause of death was blunt impact head trauma and the manner is homicide, it was reported.

Smith; her boyfriend, Jeremy Kitchens; and family members said the toddler was diagnosed with a breath-holding syndrome shortly after birth, Garrison testified. The boy would hold his breath until he passed out.

The boy was sent to timeout on July 30, and Smith and Kitchens described hearing a thud and finding him unresponsive on the floor. Kitchens said Smith smacked the boy in the face and shook him in an attempt to revive him, Garrison testified.

The boy experienced a similar event in 2013. Smith rushed him to the hospital, where he was released without treatment, Garrison told defense attorney Hank Crane.

On July 30, Smith, a licensed practical nurse, tested the child’s oxygen level and called 911 when it dropped to a dangerous level about three hours later, Garrison testified.

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Hephzibah woman charged with child cruelty after 2-year-old son dies
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