Mother of dead infant testifies boyfriend immersed in Internet conspiracy theories
Sheena Alston sobbed on the witness stand as she looked through six photos of her deceased five-week-old daughter and had to say whether she'd caused the injuries the photos showed.
Sage Levys had bruises on her back, chest and limbs. Her left cheek was pockmarked by pink cuts or lesions, some fresh, some healed over.
“Did you do anything to cause that injury to Sage's cheek?” said Deputy District Attorney Jennifer DiGiovanni.
“No,” Alston said between sobs.
“Did you do anything at all that could have caused that to Sage?”
Alston, 30, was testifying Thursday against Sage's father and her former boyfriend, Lincoln Levys, 29, of Wilkinsburg, who was charged with the infant's Oct. 23, 2014 death and the abuse of two other children.
In the months leading up to Sage's death, Levys had become more and more immersed in conspiracy theories from the Internet; he started acting more short-tempered and abusive toward the children and more controlling of the family, and he was the last one to have cared for the baby before she died, Alston said.
“I became afraid of him and who he was becoming. I became a coward,” Alston said when asked why she didn't take the children and leave. “I was pregnant and afraid at that time to do things on my own.”
Alston, who said she'd been physically and sexually abused as a child, has pleaded guilty to three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, but had no agreement with prosecutors to reduce her charges or recommend a sentence in exchange for her testimony.
Alston said Levys watched videos online about becoming a “sovereign citizen” and thought he could become independent of U.S. and state law. He has been absent from most of the trial before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph K. Williams III and all of the testimony because he refuses to recognize the charges or the court's authority over him.
He stopped letting the family drink tap water, go to public school or go to a doctor — despite Alston's pregnancy at the time — because he believed other things he found online, she said. To get prenatal care for Sage, she hired a midwife and had a nurse secretly give her injections of prenatal medicine at work. When Sage was born, Levys was in jail on drug charges — Alston said her water broke while she was at Pittsburgh Municipal Court trying to bail him out — but when he got out he signed Alston and Sage out of the hospital after one night, against medical advice.
Alston said Levys' method of “soothing” Sage when she cried involved holding her facedown in the palm of his hand with her body across his forearm, then rocking her up and down while slapping her back with the other hand. She demonstrated the technique for the jury on a plastic doll, thwacking it several times to show how hard she said Levys would hit Sage's back.
Police and prosecutors said Levys' long fingernails could have been what left the marks on Sage's cheeks; Alston said she thought the marks were a rash when they started showing up when Sage was about three weeks old. She said Levys had insisted on caring for Sage by himself the day before the baby died, and had gone upstairs to soothe her at about 8:30 p.m. that night as the baby cried off and on for about an hour and a half. When Alston woke up early the next morning, Sage was cold, wasn't breathing and had more of the marks on her cheeks than ever before. Levys rode with medics who arrived to take Sage to Children's Hospital, where she was declared dead.
Alston admitted she had lied to police when she said she had checked on the baby herself earlier that morning, and had told the other children to lie about being abused.
“I didn't know the severity of the situation, and I didn't want Lincoln to be upset if he didn't check on (Sage) and I didn't check on her either,” she said. “I did not know the nature of her death or what had happened to her at that point.”
Alston will re-take the witness stand Friday morning to be cross-examined by Levys' attorneys.