Mother tells court about how boyfriend beat son in Fayette County case
The mother of a 4-year-old Fayette County boy who police said was beaten to death testified he began to show unexplained bruises in September 2011, seven months after she moved into a Point Marion house with her boyfriend.
Heather Louise Forsythe, 30, testified on Monday that the bruises would appear when she had left Trenton Lewis St. Clair in the care of Patrick Ray Haney, 29.
Haney always had an explanation for the marks, Forsythe told jurors on the first day of his trial before Judge Nancy Vernon.
“He would say (Trenton) fell, or he was climbing and fell, or running and tripped, whatever,” Forsythe testified. “He always had an excuse for every bruise he got.”
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Haney if he is convicted of first-degree homicide in Trenton's death on Sept. 13, 2011.
Forsythe heard a “ruckus” in her son's upstairs bedroom when she came home from a funeral on Sept. 10, 2011. She went upstairs and found Haney beating Trenton, she testified.
“Patrick was standing above my son, hitting and slapping my child, and he kicked him with the side of his foot,” Forsythe testified. “I caught him hitting him, beating him, pulling his hair.”
Forsythe is charged with homicide but, under a plea deal, the charge will be dropped in exchange for her testimony. She pleaded guilty to child endangerment and faces 2 1⁄2 to five years in prison.
Forsythe pushed Haney off Trenton and the two got into a shoving match as Trenton cried, she said. She noticed red marks on Trenton's arm and he complained about pain in his stomach.
Trenton's condition deteriorated, Forsythe testified, but Haney refused to let her take her son to a hospital. “When I told Patrick I needed to take him to a doctor, he said I was overreacting,” she said.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Jeremy Davis, Forsythe acknowledged owning a cellphone. She said she could not reach two family members by phone and Haney watched as she tried to send text messages. “He just watched when I called people,” Forsythe testified.
Forsythe told Assistant District Attorney Mark Mehalov that Haney would not allow her and Trenton to leave the bedroom. She acknowledged telling police she visited a store sometime after the beating, but she could not recall the exact date.
“When I was writing my statement, they told me to do the best I could with the dates,” Forsythe testified. “I don't recall the dates.”
When she returned from the store, Forsythe testified, she heard a slapping sound coming from Trenton's bedroom. She found the boy sitting on the floor, crying.
When Trenton vomited on Sept. 13, Haney “gave in” and the two took the boy to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va. Forsythe testified that when she picked up Trenton to take him, he was limp.
“My son fell out on me,” Forsythe testified as she placed her hand over her face and began to cry. “He stopped breathing on me. I tried to do CPR.”
During the drive to the hospital, Haney apologized. “He kept telling me he was sorry,” Forsythe testified. “I kept asking him why. He didn't answer. When we approached a red light going to Ruby, he said, ‘I'm going to jail.' ”
Trooper James Pierce testified that Haney claimed Trenton fell down a flight of 13 wooden stairs on Sept. 13. Haney described Trenton as a “clumsy boy” who days earlier had fallen off a desk at home and a bridge at a park, Pierce testified.
Pierce said Haney admitted hitting Trenton on the back of the head and slapping his face when told Forsythe had accused Haney of beating Trenton and that the boy's injuries were inconsistent with a fall.
“Mr. Haney dropped his head and appeared to be crying,” Pierce said. “I asked him if he feels remorse for Trenton's death. Mr. Haney responded, ‘Of course I feel remorse. He was only 4 years of age.' ”
Dr. Matrina Schmidt, a former West Virginia deputy chief medical examiner, testified in a video deposition that Trenton had bruises near his right eye, right jaw, right neck, left cheek, left face, left jawline, left neck, chest, abdomen, back, buttocks and both arms and legs.
Some bruises had a circular pattern that Schmidt said indicated finger impressions. Internally, Trenton had bruising to his scalp and small intestine and an abdominal blood clot.
Schmidt testified that Trenton died of peritonitis due to a closed abdominal injury caused by battering.
“These bruises are scattered all over, and they're patterned. Some are circular, that appear to be finger impressions,” Schmidt testified. “You would have to fall multiple times for these bruises. You would just keep falling and falling and falling and falling.”
Pierce testified that Forsythe told troopers at the hospital her son had fallen down the stairs, but she later changed her story. “She whispered to us that she would rather speak to us at the state police barracks, that she was afraid Patrick Haney was outside the door, listening,” Pierce testified about the hospital exchange.
Trenton lived with his mother, Haney and Haney's father, Patrick Haney Sr., who is now deceased, in the house in Point Marion. Pierce testified that Haney Sr. was unable to walk and used a wheelchair. Forsythe testified she never suspected the older man hurt the boy because he was ill.
Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.