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Defense claims Garner toddler fell into coffee table, died

Posted August 10, 2010

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— A public defender representing a Garner mother who is accused of killing her young son said the toddler fell into a coffee table and died.

Sherita Nicole McNeil, of 1852 Spring Drive, faces charges of first-degree murder and concealing the death of a person – her son, DeVarion Gross.

How DeVarion died has remained a mystery. His autopsy showed the child, about 19 months old, was subject to “undetermined homicidal violence” and may have suffered abuse. The medical examiner said the child had three rib bone fractures.

In opening statements at her trial Tuesday, public defender Bryan Collins said McNeil had agreed to give up her rights to DeVarion. Family and friends had cared for him, but the boy's father, Eric Chambers, pressured McNeil to get the child back before he was released from prison.

When Chambers went back to prison in May 2008, the pressure on McNeil increased.

"It was by no means a model home or model family. Sherita could have been a much better mother," Collins said.

Sherita Nicole McNeil Testimony begins in toddler's death

McNeil was living with DeVarion, who was nicknamed Poodie, and her daughter in Garner at the time of her arrest.

Collins said DeVarion fell into a coffee table. McNeil shook the child, but he did not respond. Believing he was dead, McNeil picked up the phone to call for help, but changed her mind, he said.

"Fear came over her, fear of going to jail and Eric Chambers," Collins said.

Collins said McNeil feared Chambers would kill her if he found out.

So, McNeil put the body in a trash bag, Collins said. She would take DeVarion’s dead body out every night and sleep with him. When he began to smell, she poured bleach on the trash bag and then put the body back in it.

"She was trying to work up the courage to tell her family what happened," Collins said. "She was depressed and sad. Her child was dead."

McNeil's brother, Antonio McNeil, testified on Tuesday that he found the child's body at his sister's home on Nov. 14, 2008. He said he went to the apartment at the urging of their mother who was concerned about McNeil and the child.

After opening the closet, Antonio McNeil said he smelled bleach. He opened a large plastic container that was inside the closet and began pulling out the contents – sheets and a plastic bag. In the bag, he said he saw an outline of a head.

"I just dropped to my knees," Antonio McNeil said. "I just figured it was him."

A search of McNeil’s home that day revealed DeVarion’s body, wearing only a diaper, wrapped in two plastic bags in a trash can that had been drenched with bleach.

“The boy was shoved into a plastic Rubbermaid container with clothing and bed linens drenched in bleach to contain the smell,” Assistant District Attorney Melanie Shekita said.

Police said DeVarion was last seen alive Oct. 3, 2008.

Shekita said family and friends were concerned and repeatedly asked to Sherita McNeil if they could see DeVarion during the six weeks before his body was found. Shekita said McNeil refused and then disappeared for several days.

When the child was found, Shekita said, there was almost nothing left of him, he was so badly decomposed.

Collins said Sherita McNeil told police the truth about what happened.

"It does not add up to murder," he said.

Shekita confirmed the defense attorney’s statement that McNeil told police the child hit his head after jumping off of the couch and died immediately.

Shekita said McNeil repeatedly told people, including Ira James, the father of her daughter, how much she hated DeVarion.

Prosecutors quoted a letter to James found by police that said , "I hated that baby and Eric the whole time. All I have for them is hate.”

"I don't love him and I never will," the letter stated.

Shekita said the medical examiner found that DeVarion's rib fractures showed a history of abuse and proved that his death could not have happened the way McNeil said it did.

Wake County Child Protective Services had two reports from individuals concerned about DeVarion, during his lifetime, said Warren Ludwig, child welfare administrator for Wake County, including allegations that McNeil never wanted the child and was having financial difficulties.

Both sources told Child Protective Services that prior to DeVarion's birth, McNeil had arranged for a friend to raise him, but reclaimed him when he was 8 months old.

CPS did not act on those reports, but sent a letter detailing the information to the Garner Police Department for review.

Shekita said McNeil told a co-worker she often whipped DeVarion and threw him against a wall. Also, a daycare teacher noticed a mark she thought was from a belt on the child's back.

Shekita said McNeil started dating a man shortly after DeVarion's death.

"He was having sex with the defendant while her dead child was in the closet," Shekita said.

The man smelled something, but told authorities that he thought McNeil's house was just dirty.

Testimony will continue on Wednesday.

43 Comments

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  • wildcat Aug 11, 2010

    Looking at the mother's picture in court, she does not show any kind of remorese in losing her child. That is so sad. Most mothers would be grieving so hard it would be written all over their face. Well now she is going to prison for murder and will have plenty time to think about her wrongness.

  • wildcat Aug 11, 2010

    daycare teacher noticed a mark she thought was from a belt on the child's back.

    All these people saw this young baby with these problems and none took the time to report it. They all are just as guilty as the young mother. They all could have save this baby's life if they had really wanted too. They should have reported the mother immediately.

  • wildcat Aug 11, 2010

    "He was having sex with the defendant while her dead child was in the closet," Shekita said.

    Most closets are near the bed. Its just she had no mind-set whatsoever in the dead child laying in the closet. It was all about her. She is free of the child now, and this will be with her for the rest of her life. She did not have to take this little ones life. He could not fight a big person like her. He is heaven now with Jesus.

  • wildcat Aug 11, 2010

    The children that live are the ones that grow up to be so violent.
    ccs1920

    Not true at all. Many children grown up to live good productive lives. Talk what you know, other wise be quiet.

  • wildcat Aug 11, 2010

    medical examiner found that DeVarion's rib fractures showed a history of abuse and proved that his death could not have happened the way McNeil said it did.

    Thanks to the Medical Examiner who showed other abuses as well. Why did her family wait until the last minute to check on the young lady and her son? Had they went sooner, they might have been able to save the child's life. Now they all are burden. Knowing the struggle that the young lady was going through, how come the family was not there helping her? Too late now.

  • wildcat Aug 11, 2010

    So, McNeil put the body in a trash bag, Collins said. She would take DeVarion’s dead body out every night and sleep with him. When he began to smell, she poured bleach on the trash bag and then put the body back in it.

    This young lady seems to have some sort of mental issues to be sleeping with a dead body even if it was a baby. What kind of parents, especially mother did she have in raising her? Why did she not call for help instead of hiding the body like she did. In the end she was caught is now being tried in court for murder. May she get her just.

  • wildcat Aug 11, 2010

    I do not buy it. The Defense is doing a pitiful job when they know this young lady murdered her own child. May she received life in prison for her actions. Of she is doing everything not to get to prison.

  • ccs1920 Aug 11, 2010

    This is the type of situation that many thousands of young black children are raised in. Some whites also. The children that live are the ones that grow up to be so violent.

  • Seeminglyopposed Aug 11, 2010

    CPS gets involved when they want to. My daughter was taken up when they just said that where she lived was unsafe. Nothing to do with how her children was being treated. Actually she was a good parent, but just where she lived and they were going to take her children. So give me a break! CPS should be charged as well in this case. NO case should be to small to investigate. And being a grandparent, when the caseworker told me I had no rights, I looked at her and laughed. Needless to say, I had all of them in my house until she could get on their feet, his UNFIT dad didn't stand a chance with me. NO RIGHTS...RIGHT! My Grands, you have got to be kidding, they are my lifelines....

  • b8esfan Aug 10, 2010

    For all you CPS haters, how were they supposed to protect him when they received the reports AFTER he was already missing..Unfortunately, the boy was probably already dead at this point. I believe they acted appropriately in turning the information to the police.

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