Jury begins deliberations in Garner mother's trial
Posted August 18, 2010 12:20 p.m. EDT
Updated August 19, 2010 11:26 a.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Jurors began deliberations Wednesday in the trial of a Garner woman accused of murdering her son and concealing his body, which was found in the closet of her home.
Sherita McNeil, of 1852 Spring Drive in Garner, is charged with first-degree murder and concealing the death of her son, DeVarion Gross.
During closing arguments on Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Melanie Shekita cited phone conversations McNeil had with Ira James, the father of her daughter, where she said she hated DeVarion and abused him.
Jurors asked to listen to those recordings again on Wednesday afternoon as they deliberated McNeil’s fate. In the tapes, James begs McNeil to tell him where DeVarion is and what happened, but she remains mute.
Prosecutors have said James and McNeil had a plan to say that she was raped and forced to keep DeVarion because she was afraid of the child's father, Eric Chambers.
"You was raped. Are you listening?" James told McNeil during one of the calls. "You were raped and you were forced to keep that baby because you were in danger."
James was in federal prison when the calls were made to McNeil.
The jury also asked to review letters McNeil wrote to Chambers.
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 Chambers, a gang member, could have her killed.
The prosecution countered that argument with letters in which McNeil wrote she wanted to be with Chambers.
"If it was an accident, why wouldn't she have called 911," Shekita said. "It wasn't an accident."
Because DeVarion's remains were so decomposed, the medical examiner could not pinpoint an exact cause of death.
Shekita argued that 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.
Medical examiner Dr. Maryanne Gaffney-Kraft 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.
Even if he had jumped from the couch, she said the child would have likely not died from his injuries.
"It is extremely rare for a child to die from a fall of less than three feet," Gaffney-Kraft said.
Testifying for the defense, Wake Forest University associate professor of pathology Dr. Donald Jason said it was possible the toddler died the way McNeil said he did.
Jason, who also serves as medical examiner in Forsythe County and teaches doctors how to perform autopsies, told jurors, "Nobody can tell and can give an opinion, a pathological and scientific opinion as to what the cause of death is."
Holding up a photo of DeVarion's decomposing body during closing arguments, 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.
Jurors will reconvene for a second day of deliberations on Thursday.