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Cause of child's death at root of closing arguments in Garner mother's trial

Posted August 17, 2010

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— Prosecutors urged a jury Tuesday to convict a Garner woman of murder in the death of her son.

"You can convict and you should convict the first-degree murder of her son who she threw away like garbage," Assistant District Attorney Melanie Shekita said during closing arguments in the trial of Sherita McNeil

McNeil, of 1852 Spring Drive in Garner, is charged with first-degree murder and concealing the death of her son, DeVarion Gross, whose remains were found in a closet in her home in November 2008.

Shekita cited phone conversations McNeil had with Ira James, the father of her daughter, where she said she hated DeVarion and abused him.

Shekita played tapes of McNeil laughing about her treatment of the child, while he cried in the background.

Sherita McNeil Closing arguments given in Garner mother’s trial

Defense attorney Bryan Collins said during his closing argument that McNeil eventually told police that the child died after falling off the couch and hitting his head on the coffee table.

Collins said McNeil didn't call 911 because she was afraid of DeVarion's father, Eric Chambers, a gang member who was in prison. Collins said McNeil feared he could have her killed.

Shekita said McNeil was not afraid of Chambers. She noted letters where McNeil said she wanted to be with Chambers. The letters were signed "Sherita Chambers," though they aren't married, Shekita said.

"If it was an accident why wouldn't she have called 911," Shekita said. "It wasn't an accident."

Earlier Tuesday, Collins questioned Dr. Donald Jason, associate professor of pathology at Wake Forest University, before resting his case.

Jason, who serves as medical examiner in Forsythe County and teaches doctors to perform autopsies, told jurors, "I cannot say scientifically what the child died of, but it is possible the child died exactly how the defendant said."

His testimony contradicted what the jury heard Monday from Dr. Maryanne Gaffney-Kraft.

She said DeVarion's three rib fractures, all at various stages of healing, were a sign he was abused during the course of his short life, and that he would have been in too much pain to jump on the couch as his mother described.

“He would have been crying, he would have been fussy. Anything the child did would have been painful,” she said.

If he had fallen off the couch, she said, he would have sustained a short-fall injury.

"It is extremely rare for a child to die from a fall of less than three feet," Gaffney-Kraft said.

Because DeVarion's remains were so decomposed, the medical examiner could not pinpoint an exact cause of death.

Jason, too, declined to nail down an exact cause of death. "Nobody can tell and can give an opinion, a pathological and scientific opinion as to what the cause of death is," he said.

Shekita said the medical examiner couldn't tell what the last injury was that caused DeVarion's death because McNeil destroyed the evidence by hiding the body.

Shekita noted that his autopsy report called the rib fractures a possible sign of abuse, and concluded that DeVarion was subject to “undetermined homicidal violence.”

"How do you explain how a baby you never wanted ends up dead," Shekita said.

Holding up a photo of DeVarion's decomposing body, Collins said, "They will argue this is evidence of a murder." He said the photo only showed evidence of concealing the body.

"She did not kill her son," Collins said.

On Wednesday morning, the judge will instruct the jury on the law before they begin their deliberations.

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  • oreally Aug 20, 2010

    "my sister broke my ribs when i was a toddler and they grew back bent up. But my mother has never said anything about me whining or complaining about them. So the part of him not complaining I can believe. Also a childs pain tolorence is alot higher than an adults.
    CWILLIAMS1639"

    You have NO IDEA what you are talking about. Just because children cannot verbalize (talk) about their pain sometimes DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY ARE NOT HURTING OR THEY HURT LESS THAN ADULTS!!! That is completely absurd and backwards thinking!! and I hope you don't withhold medicine from your children (if you have any) because you think they aren't really in pain. Are there really people like you still out there?? Additionally, ribs don't "grow back bent up". Seriously.

  • LdyDrumma Aug 19, 2010

    I've been following this story since the beginning. 1) I think she should have given the child back to the friend that she allowed to have custody of the baby when he was born. 2) IF, the baby did die the way that she said, she should have called for help. What's more important, someone being mad at you or your child's safety, health, and life. 3) Based on the articles and stories that I've read and watched, if everyone thought it to be that awkward that they call or come by to see the child, and she has excuse after excuse, why didn't anyone call the authorities sooner.

    My prayer is that the families find comfort in this time of tragedy, and the mother get the help she is needed.

  • claytordr Aug 19, 2010

    I hope if the justice system does not punish her accordingly then the father will take care of the trash when he gets home

  • wildcat Aug 18, 2010

    lickad...father is n prison for his own crimal acts. The child did have much for parents.

  • wildcat Aug 18, 2010

    This mother murder and harm this child. May she receive life in prison without parole.

  • lascalletter Aug 18, 2010

    As a mother who loves her children more than life itself knows that there is no way possible for a mother to put her child in a trash bag with bleach and stick them in a closet if they were to pass away. That is not even a human thing to do, let alone a motherly thing to do. Obviously if this little boy had broken ribs that were healing, all at different times he was being abused by someone. I will never understand how anyone could hurt an something as inocent as a child. Newsflash people. . .if you don't want kids, use birth control!!!! And there are people all over the world who would appreciate and love them! Stop killing God's greatest gift. . .a child!

  • ncrebel Aug 18, 2010

    Snakebit, I stand by my previous comment. How much longer is society going to tolerate this kind of behavior? Folks continue to propagate and not take responsibility for their actions.

    Case in point - the girl that left her newborn in the bathroom in the McDonald's in Zebulon. She has custody of this child again after taking "how to be a parent classes". Does that make any sense? She is on social assistance with several other kids. Just how long do you think it's going to be before something bad happens again?

    Spay and Neuter!

  • mbwilliams83 Aug 18, 2010

    this poor innocent child. he didnt ask to be born. this mother needs to have the same thing done to her. an eye for an eye. i have a 19 mth old son as well, and as we all know babies can get under your skin some. ive been keeping up with this story and i pick my son up from daycare after work and i just squeeze him. i couldnt imagine harming either of my children in any way. i hope this child is playing in heaven as God makes sure he is safe. I hope this woman gets everything thats coming to her. its selfishness on her part for taking the opportunity away from somebody that would have loved him and givin him the world.

  • sherelllewis Aug 18, 2010

    THIS STORY JUST HURTS TO HEAR.........I BELIEVE EVEN GOD FINDS IT OFFENSIVE..........HOW COULD YOU JUST TREAT A CHILD THIS WAY.......TORTURING HIM AND BRAGGING ABOUT IT TO FRIENDS....THAT IN ITSELF IS PROOF THAT THIS FEMALE NEEDED PSCHIATRIC HELP...AND THEN WHO SITS ON THE OTHER END OF THE PHONE AND LISTENS TO THAT INSANITY AND SAYS OR DOES NOTHING! THE REST IS JUST FURTHER PROOF THAT SHES CRAZY AND HAD NO BUSINESS ON THE STREETS ANYWAY.....

  • Snakebite Survivor Aug 18, 2010

    Geez, why don't you folks just get out the pitchforks? I've never seen such a mob howling for blood. Of course, this is an appalling case, but even the state's medical examiners says that it quite possible that the mother's statement about how the child died is correct. That adds up to reasonable doubt. Of course, she committed a felony by concealing the body, as the defense admits, and she will go to jail for that. But first degree murder? Uh-uh.

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