Fayette jury convicts Point Marion man of first-degree murder in boy's death
A killer who beat a 4-year-old boy nearly from head to toe in the last days of his life has been brought to justice, the child's grandmother said minutes after a Fayette County jury convicted Patrick Ray Haney of first-degree homicide.
“Trenton's finally going to lay at rest, with no more doubt in that baby's mind that the guy who did this is punished now,” said a tearful Sharon Smitley of Lake Lynn on Tuesday. “The truth is out.”
A jury of six men and six women deliberated for 90 minutes before finding Haney, 29, of Point Marion, guilty of first-degree homicide and child endangerment in the Sept. 13, 2011, beating death of Trenton Lewis St. Clair, 4.
Jurors will return to Judge Nancy Vernon's courtroom at 9 a.m. Wednesday to begin the penalty phase of the trial, when they determine whether to sentence Haney to life imprisonment or death.
Trenton's mother, Heather Louise Forsythe, 30, testified she saw Haney slapping, hitting and kicking her son on Sept. 10, 2011.
She said Haney would not let her take Trenton to a hospital until he stopped breathing on Sept. 13, 2011. Trenton died of peritonitis due to a closed abdominal injury caused by battering, a medical examiner testified.
An emergency room doctor testified that had Trenton been brought to a hospital sooner, he likely would have survived.
Smitley said she wants Haney to receive the death penalty.
“I believe he deserves to die, as well, a long, hard death,” Smitley said. “I'm sorry if I sound cold and cruel, but what he did to my grandson was colder and crueler than anybody could imagine. I can't even imagine what (Trenton) lived through the last three days of his life.”
One of Forsythe's sisters, Louella Forsythe, 39, of New Salem, said she believes Heather Forsythe was a prisoner in the Morgantown Street house she and Trenton shared with Haney.
“I believe she was held captive in the house and went through a lot of torture, mentally,” said Louella Forsythe, whose family sat with Smitley for the trial. “It was really brave of her to stand up and testify against him. I'm proud of her for getting justice for her son.”
Haney, who testified Tuesday, denied that he hurt Trenton. He told jurors that Forsythe awoke him on Sept. 13, 2011, and told him Trenton had fallen ill after tumbling down a flight of stairs.
“I went into his room to check on him,” Haney testified. “I leaned down and gave him a kiss, and his lips were cold. There was no air coming out of his mouth.”
Haney testified he and Forsythe immediately drove Trenton to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W. Va. Haney said he saw bruises on the boy for the first time when doctors cut off his clothing.
Dr. Hollyn Larabee, who testified she tried for 72 minutes to revive Trenton, said he was “covered in bruises” and “blue from lack of oxygen.” She said Trenton had bruises to his arms, legs, chest and stomach and near his eyes, ears, jaw, neck and collarbone.
Haney testified he told doctors Trenton had fallen down a set of stairs only because he was repeating what he had been told by Forsythe. He said a state trooper who testified that Haney later admitted to striking Trenton in the head and face “was mistaken.”
“I'm not saying he's making it up,” Haney told jurors. “I'm saying he's mistaken.”
Haney testified that bruises on Trenton's face were caused when he fell from a desk. Haney said he never saw Forsythe hit Trenton, but he once saw her shake him.
“She grabbed a hold of him and shook him,” Haney testified, speculating Forsythe was trying to quiet the boy.
Although a medical examiner testified Trenton would have been vomiting and suffering pain from the abdominal injury, Haney testified the boy showed no sign of distress until Sept. 13.
Larabee testified Trenton's was the worst case of child abuse she has treated. She said Trenton had no pulse when he was brought into the emergency room.
“He arrived, essentially, dead,” Larabee testified. “He was not breathing. There were no signs of life, whatsoever.”
Often near tears, Larabee testified she restarted Trenton's heart four times but could not keep it going.
“Peritonitis is very treatable,” Larabee said. “It's a relatively easy surgical thing to treat. It was probably what made treating this case difficult. If he had been brought in earlier, he likely would have survived.”
Some jurors became visibly upset when Assistant District Attorney Mark Mehalov showed them nine photographs of Trenton's bruised body as the lawyer delivered his closing statement.
Mehalov said Haney's motives were evident in a text message Forsythe sent to Haney on Sept. 3, 2011. In it, Forsythe said Haney disliked children and wanted Trenton to be sent away.
“You make comments that you hate kids, you can't stand them and you don't want any,” Forsythe wrote in the message. “Trenton is my only child. He is my miracle. Then you talk about sending him away from me. He loves you and hears you say them things and cried to me that you want him to leave and he asked me if I was going too.”
Defense attorney Jeremy Davis questioned Forsythe's motives. He pointed out she testified in exchange for a plea bargain in which a charge of criminal homicide was dropped.
He said details of Forsythe's story were not credible, including her contention Haney would not let her take Trenton to the hospital or allow her to call or text for help.
He noted Forsythe's cellphone had more than 300 text messages on it, and she told police she went to a store the day after Haney allegedly beat Trenton.
“The commonwealth wants you to believe she was a prisoner in this house, and couldn't leave,” Davis told jurors. “She was at a funeral on the 10th and a Family Dollar on the 11th. It doesn't add up.”
Forsythe pleaded guilty last week to child endangerment in exchange for a sentence of 2 1⁄2 to 5 years in prison. Prosecutors will drop a homicide charge against Forsythe in exchange for her testimony against Haney.
Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media.
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