Local News

Co-worker: Mother would punch Garner toddler

Posted August 11, 2010 11:44 a.m. EDT
Updated August 11, 2010 3:47 p.m. EDT

— The former co-worker of a Garner woman on trial in the death of her 19-month-old son testified on Wednesday that the woman said she would punch the child.

"I asked her, 'Why would you do that?'" Ashley McNair said of a conversation with co-worker Sherita Nicole McNeil. "She would say, 'So, he would be quiet.'"

McNeil, of 1852 Spring Drive, faces charges of first-degree murder and concealing the October 2008 death of DeVarion Gross. The boy’s body was found a few weeks later in a garbage bag inside a closet in his mother’s apartment.

McNair, who also lived in the same apartment complex as McNeil, said McNeil mainly talked about her daughter and not DeVarion.

"She didn't like him. She didn't love him the way she loved her daughter," McNair said.

After finding out about DeVarion's death, McNair said, she talked to McNeil, who she said sounded normal and showed no emotion.

McNeil's ex-boyfriend, Gregory Baines, said he also spoke to McNeil after the boy's body was found.

"She said what happened was an accident," Baines said.

The exact cause of DeVarion's death remains unclear.

An autopsy showed he was subject to “undetermined homicidal violence” and may have suffered abuse. The medical examiner said the child had three rib bone fractures.

Earlier Wednesday, DeVarion's grandmother Kay Washington testified that her son, Eric Chambers, and McNeil stayed at her home from November 2007 until spring 2008. During that time, Washington said McNeil "very rarely" interacted with the child, who was nicknamed “Poodie.”

After Chambers, McNeil and DeVarion moved out, Washington said she would still spend time with the boy. On one visit, Washington said she noticed DeVarion had a large scar on the top of his head. Chambers said McNeil told him the child had fallen down, Washington said.

In his final visit with her, Washington said, DeVarion was crying a lot. She felt that he was sick.

Becoming concerned, Washington started calling to check up on the boy, but McNeil said he was with her co-worker, Latracey Gross, who had also been DeVarion's first guardian.

McNeil gave DeVarion to Gross after he was born but later changed her mind and took him back when he was 8 months old.

In fall 2008, Washington said, she contacted Gross, asking to see DeVarion, but was told the boy was not living with Gross.

The call prompted Gross to contact Child Protective Services and Garner Police. The CPS sent Gross a letter saying there was nothing they could do.

Washington was also growing frustrated.

"I said, 'Where is he? Can't nobody tell me?'" Washington said. "On several occasions, me and some of my friends would actually go there (McNeil's home) looking for Poodie, but they would never let me come no further than the front door."

When DeVarion's body was found, McNeil's mother, Angie Harding, called Washington with the news.

"When she said that, I just started screaming and hollering," Washington said.

In opening statements Tuesday, public defender Bryan 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, Collins said. McNeil feared Chambers would kill her if he found out, he told jurors.

On Wednesday, McNair said she would often hear Chambers yelling on the phone at McNeil. McNair said McNeil told her she was not afraid of him.

Baines testified that he had sex with McNeil in the bed a few steps from the closet where DeVarion's body was being kept. He said he didn't know the child's body was inside the closet, but he noted that there was a strong odor in the apartment. He thought the smell was possibly trash.

Despite everything, Washington said she isn't mad at McNeil.

"I'm not to judge Sherita – only God can do that," she said.