NEWTON— Assistant District Attorneys Jamie Adams and Michael Van Buren called their last witness to testify Tuesday in Catawba County Superior Court regarding the William Howard Lail III murder and child abuse trial.
Dr. Sharon Cooper, a developmental and forensic pediatrician and retired U.S. Army Colonel, was asked to testify regarding the evidence Jaydon Ray Sandlin’s death and injuries were not accidental.
Cooper is a professor and author and has spent decades researching child abuse and treating victims of child abuse. She has testified in more than 300 child abuse cases worldwide and worked for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, among many other factors qualifying her as a child abuse expert.
“It is my opinion (Jaydon’s death) was non-accidental because of the other signs of abuse,” she told the jury.
Lail is charged with one count of first-degree murder and four counts of felony child abuse. He does not face the death penalty.
He is accused of killing Jaydon and physically abusing both Jaydon and his older sister Kylie Madison Sandlin at a residence in Long View. Kylie was 3 at the time of Lail’s arrest.
Kylie and Jaydon were the children of Lail’s now ex-girlfriend, Whitney Weathers.
Weathers pleaded guilty to several felony counts of child abuse earlier this year.
On May 3, 2013, first responders arrived to a duplex in Long View to find Jaydon dead from an apparent drowning and covered in burns and bruises.
Kylie also was covered in burns and bruises.
Lail was arrested later that evening.
An autopsy conducted by Dr. Jerri McLemore, a board certified forensic pathologist, showed Jaydon’s primary cause of death to be a “presumed drowning” with blunt force injuries, including the burns, as contributing factors.
When asked to examine the case, the district attorney’s office provided Cooper with Jaydon’s autopsy report, photos of the crime scene, photos from Jaydon’s autopsy, photos of Kylie’s injuries and the four-hour interview Lail had with investigators after his arrest.
“The distribution of (Jaydon’s) burns are not consistent with the history (of what happened),” Cooper said.
A week and a half prior to Jaydon’s death, Lail said Jaydon and Kylie were scalded by the running shower water after he left them alone in the tub to take the trash out.
Jaydon had healing burns and scalding injuries at the top of his head, upper thighs and buttocks, along with scattered, smaller healing burns across his body that were all at least second-degree burns, according to the autopsy.
“When burns are concentrated on the buttocks and back of the legs, research shows the child was dipped in the water,” Cooper said.
She added if Jaydon were sprayed with water from the shower head, there would be burns on his back in a Christmas tree pattern.
If he were standing or stepped into the hot water, the bottom of his feet and ankles would be burned, depending on the depth of the water, and there would be scattered burns across his legs from the water splashing up as he tried to remove himself from the tub.
“This child had second-degree and third-degree burns,” Cooper testified.
Her medical opinion to the court was that Jaydon’s burns needed to be treated by a medical professional, and the burn cream, hydrogen peroxide, Motrin and bandages purchased by the defendant to treat the burns were not a proper treatment.
She added Jaydon would more than likely have been transferred to a burn center if he had been taken to the hospital.
Earlier testimony from Weathers revealed Jaydon had been sleeping in the bathtub because his injuries prevented him from wearing a diaper.
Cooper said this would have been an “inhumane” way of caring for Jaydon because the burns on his buttocks would have been “exceedingly painful.”
As for the bruises, she testified she looked at the location and pattern of the bruising to determine the majority of the bruises were non-accidental.
Jaydon had bruising across his body, including his forehead, top of his head, chin, mouth and back.
After reading McLemore’s autopsy and Jaydon’s growth chart, Cooper was able to determine while although Jaydon was technically not in starvation and he was not dehydrated, he had lost weight and was significantly smaller than he was six months prior to his death.
She said significant weight loss is common in abuse victims.
As for whether or not Jaydon was forcibly drowned, Cooper could not say for sure because Jaydon would not have been able to put up a fight because of his injuries.
“Children who’ve lost weight, are battered and injured… they’re debilitated,” she said.
Jaydon’s autopsy report showed 130 to 140 individual injuries internally and externally.
Upon examination of the crime scene photos, Cooper noticed something unusual.
“There was an absence of water on the floor, in the bathtub and an absence of towels,” Cooper said.
Typically when there’s an accidental drowning in a bathtub, there will be water on the floor and a tub of water, she added.
She said the tub was also clean and did not match the state of the rest of the home and bathroom, which she described as chaotic and disheveled.
“I saw a very clean tub and very little evidence anyone was in the tub,” Cooper testified.
Post testimony business
Cooper was the state’s final witness.
After the state rested its case, defense attorney Victoria Jayne made a motion to have Lail’s charges dismissed.
Superior Court Judge Forrest D. Bridges denied her motion.
The defense is expected to call three to five witnesses to testify beginning Wednesday.