NEWTON— Emotions ran high Wednesday during the testimonies of the grandmother and mother of Jaydon Ray Sandlin, who drowned in 2013, and Kylie Madison Sandlin, who suffered physical abuse.
William Howard Lail III, of Hickory, is charged with one count of first-degree murder for the death of Jaydon and four counts of felony child abuse and neglect of Kylie and Jaydon.
Lail does not face the death penalty.
Jaydon was a year old at the time of his death and Madison was 3 at the time of Lail’s arrest. The children were in the custody of their mother, Lail’s now ex-girlfriend.
Prior to family’s testimony in Catawba County Superior Court, Lt. Michael Ford, an investigator with the Long View Police Department, shared with the court what he saw at the crime scene the day of Jaydon’s death May 3, 2013.
“I noticed, of course, my officers coming out of the residence, saw EMS with a young girl,” he said.
The young girl was Kylie, who was wrapped in a towel.
“She was in a puzzled state, had injuries all over her body,” Ford described.
He said he did not touch Jaydon to feel for a pulse because EMS already informed him he was dead, but described Jaydon as pale in color, which corroborates testimony from other law enforcement officers and first responders Monday.
Ford said within 30 minutes to an hour of being at the scene, he called the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation to help process the crime scene because “they’re specially trained and have specialized equipment.”
Ford, who also serves as the evidence technician for the case, presented items from the home and described where each piece was found.
During cross examination, Defense Attorney Victoria Jayne asked Ford about Lail’s demeanor when he saw him.
“He was upset, kicking things, bouncing, screaming,” he said. “I don’t recall seeing tears. It looked like he was putting on a show.”
He returned a few weeks after the incident to where Jaydon drowned, a residence in Long View, with an SBI agent, and they tested the water temperature of the water heater, he said.
On May 3, police officers and first responders found severe burns on both Jaydon and Kylie. Lail said they were caused from scalding bath water from when he accidentally left the children alone in the tub for too long when the garbage truck arrived.
Ford, however, was not able to recall the temperature setting of the water heater when it was inspected because of how much time had passed between then and the day of his testimony.
Maggie Ervin, Jaydon and Kylie’s grandmother, made around a half a dozen phone calls to social services prior to Jaydon’s death about the condition of the children and about her daughter Whitney Weathers’ treatment of the children.
Weathers pleaded guilty to five counts of felony child abuse earlier this year and is out of prison on parole. She is not allowed to have contact with Kylie.
Soon after Weathers and Lail started a relationship, Ervin noticed physical and emotional changes in the children, and she began to see them less despite living nearby, Ervin said.
“On Aug. 10, 2012, we were allowed to have Kylie for an overnight trip to see some of my birth family,” she added. “Whitney said Jaydon was sick so he wasn’t allowed to come.”
On that trip, Ervin said Kylie woke up in the middle of the night screaming and crying.
“She’s never behaved like that before,” she said, adding that Kylie also had a gash on her forehead when they picked her up.
On a different occasion a few weeks later, Kylie stayed the night at Ervin’s home without Jaydon.
“She woke up and just screamed at the top of her lungs, uncontrollable kicking and screaming,” Ervin said. “(Kylie) began grabbing herself in the vaginal area and screamed ‘It hurts Nana.’”
Over the next several months, Ervin only saw the children a few more times on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
She said on every occasion, both Jaydon and Kylie’s behavior was odd and out of character, and they often had bruises and teary eyes.
“He was in and out,” Ervin said about Lail’s behavior on Christmas.
Kylie’s third birthday party April 6, 2013, was the last time Ervin saw her grandchildren before Jaydon’s death.
“Jaydon pretty much had bruises all over,” she said.
She also said when the children would come over, they would act really hungry and thirsty.
Weathers, Jaydon and Kylie’s mother, sobbed as she was escorted into the courtroom to the witness stand.
She said when she first met Lail during summer 2012, he was nice and sweet.
“I didn’t bring my kids around him until I saw how he was with his own son,” Weathers said, describing the interaction between Lail and his son as positive and not concerning.
She added that Lail had partial custody of his son and would see him just about every other weekend at the time.
Soon after Weathers began a relationship with Lail, she, Kylie and Jaydon moved into an apartment with him.
“They called him daddy,” Weathers said, crying.
Throughout their relationship, they would sometimes leave the kids home alone in their car seats, but when Kylie learned how to get out of her car seat, they started placing the children in the closet, with a box of ammunition for one of Lail’s guns in front of the door, Weathers said.
During her testimony, Weathers described Lail as manipulative and abusive, with the majority of the physical abuse aimed toward the children once the couple moved into the Long View residence, the last place they lived together.
“I noticed little bruises here and there,” she said. “He told me they were (caused) from climbing or that they fell, excuses like that.”
Weathers said Lail took care of Kylie and Jaydon most of the time while they were living in Long View, because he did not have a job and she did.
About a week and a half before Jaydon’s death, Weathers came home to find severe burns on the children.
“First, he said it was a diaper rash reaction,” she said. “I told him, ‘No way, those are burns.’”
Weathers said she begged Lail to allow her to take Jaydon and Kylie the hospital, but he refused.
Lail was the only one in the home with a car. Weathers said she was not allowed to drive the car, and even if she were allowed, she “cannot drive a stick shift.”
She said he then told her the trash story, but she didn’t believe that either because he would “never take the trash out,” and he “left it in a room inside the house.”
Lail did travel to a local pharmacy to purchase burn cream and bandages for the children, Weathers said, and she called one of the hospitals and asked what to do. She was advised to bring the children in.
“There were blisters on them,” Weathers said.
On the day of Jaydon’s death, Lail needed to go to the methadone clinic and told Weathers to leave Jadyon on the couch and to put clothes on Kylie so no one would see her burns.
“(Jaydon) couldn’t walk,” Weathers said. “He was really weak.”
Jaydon was left at home alone, she added.
After Lail, Weathers and Kylie left for the clinic, they stopped for breakfast at Bojangles, Weathers said.
“Kylie ate all of her biscuit,” she said. “But Jadyon didn’t (when we came home). He could barely eat.”
Weathers described the burns on Jaydon’s buttocks and bottom area as severe.
“He couldn’t really wear a diaper without it sticking to the burns,” she added.
Since Jaydon couldn’t wear a diaper, Lail often put Jaydon in the bathtub to sleep, Weathers said.
Weathers was at work when Lail called her, screaming.
“He was crying and kept saying, ‘I’m so sorry, come home now,’” she said.
She couldn’t find a ride, so she walked the roughly two miles home. When she arrived, an officer informed her Jaydon was dead.
“When I found out Jaydon was gone and Kylie was getting taken away from me, I lost it,” Weathers said. “I didn’t eat for days. I didn’t drink. I’d fall asleep crying and wake up looking for my kids.”
When asked why she didn’t leave Lail, Weathers said she tried, but Lail threatened to kill her and her family if she tried to leave.
During Weathers’ testimony, Lail fidgeted in his seat and often grimaced.
Numerous objections were made by Jayne during Weathers’ testimony, which led to the jury leaving the courtroom on several occasions so Assistant District Attorney Jamie Adams, Superior Court Judge Forrest D. Bridges and Jayne could discuss whether or not certain questions and answers were relevant and pertinent to the case.
Weathers’ testimony will continue in Catawba County Superior Court on Thursday.