Jury hears more from Kashon Scott during police interview
Jurors heard a sometimes emotional police interview between Kashon Scott and Cape Coral detectives Friday, during which he told the detectives he would take the rap for punishing Zahid Jones Jr. with a belt the weekend before he died to keep Zahid’s mother from getting in trouble, but denied actually hitting the child.
The court ruled the interview was actually a continuation of an interview previously shown to the jury, and that the defense would be allowed to present a redacted audio version.
Friday marked the fourth day in the trial of Scott, who is accused of first-degree homicide and aggravated child abuse in the death of Zahid, who was pronounced dead Tuesday, August 29, 2007 as a result of blunt-force trauma.
Scott faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
Nicole Brewington, Zahid’s mother, is accused with aggravated manslaughter of a child in his death and has not gone to trial yet.
“I tried to save him, he was breathing…” Scott told detectives Christy Ellis and Scott Johnson about Zahid during the interview. His voice broke into crying as he spoke, with audible sniffling over the courtroom speakers. “They told me his heart stopped.”
Medical Examiners determined a blunt-force trauma caused a proliferation in Zahid’s bowel which leaked fecal matter into his abdominal cavity, something officials have testified happened after the Friday afternoon prior to his death.
The jury heard Scott describe the day Zahid died to the detectives. Some family members exited the courtroom during that portion of the trial and returned after the interview was done playing.
“His eyes… they were open but they were closing,” Scott said.
“I started beating on his chest,” he said, describing a frantic attempt at CPR.
Scott and an emotional Brewington attempted to resuscitate Zahid and placed him in the shower while Scott was told the proper CPR technique by 911 operators, he told detectives.
The bruises on Zahid’s chest, something siblings Jack and Jessica Nash testified were from punches by Scott, were from the initial attempts at CPR, he said. He told Ellis and Johnson the bruises on Zahid’s face were from him sucking on the baby’s cheeks, something he said he did with all the kids as a sign of affection.
But the bruises Scott didn’t have an explanation for were the ones on the child’s buttocks and the belt marks on his legs, which a DCF worker said weren’t there the Friday before Zahid died. Brewington and her two children pointed to Scott as the one who disciplined Zahid.
“Jessica made a comment to me that was disturbing to me,” detective Ellis told Scott. “I have three people… who are scared to death of you right now.”
Jessica testified earlier in the trial that she heard Scott “whooping” Zahid in the bathroom and calling him profanities, and that Scott told Zahid to “bend over and touch your toes” after he crawled into bed with her.
Scott maintained that he verbally reprimanded Zahid and took him back to his bed, and that he said “bend over and touch your toes” only because he had to wipe the child’s behind.
“You don’t beat a kid because they’re sick or throwing up,” Scott told detectives. “I don’t even own a belt. It seems like they’re throwing me to the wolves right now.”
Scott eventually conceded he would take the blame for hitting Zahid with a belt, allegedly to keep Brewington out of trouble.
“I would stake my life that Nicole… didn’t do it,” Scott said.
“It was discipline,” he said. “Trying to make him a better man than his father was. There was never any intention of hurting anyone.”
Scott told the detectives even if Zahid was punished with a belt over that weekend, he didn’t understand how it could have been related to his death.
“I did not kill that boy, I did not murder anyone,” he said.
The defense called several experts to testify on Scott’s behalf Friday.
Dr. Jack Daniel, a forensic pathologist, testified that creating a time line of Zahid’s injuries and bruises was extremely difficult.
“You really can’t reasonably separate out that time frame as much as we’d like to,”Daniel said.
He said the injuries which caused Zahid to become ill and eventually die could have occurred on Thursday, two days earlier than Chief Medical Examiner Rebecca Hamilton testified to based on autopsy findings.
“I think the progression of the symptoms go along with the progression of the injuries,”Daniel told jurors. “Two days is a reasonable time frame for the progression of this injury.”
He said the injuries Zahid suffered were consistent with multiple blows, but also that the trauma which lead to his death may have been caused by a single blow, such as a bicycle or a body slam; Jack and Jessica testified both those things had happened to Zahid, though a time frame was unclear.
Daniel said Zahid’s symptoms on Saturday could not have been a result of injuries sustained after that point; several defense witnesses including Scott’s brother Chester Scott Jr. provided an alibi for Scott not being with Zahid at their home until late Saturday night, after the symptoms began.
Several state witnesses place him at the home Thursday when Brewington and the children arrived, and Daniels conceded that the vomiting on Saturday could occur as a symptom unrelated to Zahid’s fatal injury.
After a short recess, Amy Upshaw, a family friend who was attending the trial, said she had seen a juror speaking with someone outside the courtroom, possibly about the trial. A note was passed to judge Mark Steinbeck about what Upshaw saw and the jury was dismissed while the accused juror was questioned.
“I heard them say ‘trial,'” Upshaw said.
Upshaw spoke up about what she heard, as is encouraged by the court; jurors are told specifically not to talk to anyone about the trial so that their judgement is fair.
“I’m here to support the baby (Zahid),” Upshaw said.
After questioning, the juror was allowed to return to the courtroom and the trial resumed.
Dr. Barry Crown, a psychologist, took the stand.
He told the jury children’s memory is different from adult memory when being interviewed, and that abused children are obedient to authority figures such as police officers. He said they have a tendency to fill in gaps with misinformation and deny abuse as a mental defense mechanism.
He criticized the interview techniques of police and Child Advocacy Center worker Alexa Matyas with Jack and Jessica about the weekend before Zahid’s death.
“Most use the same techniques that they would use with adults,”said Crown. “Most talk to children like they’re little adults.”
The doctor had familiarized himself with the transcripts of the interviews.
“The officer said ‘just say yes,’ which a child is going to take as an instruction.”
He said Matyas’s interviewing technique was too narrow and may have confused the children into answering a certain way.
“You start with the broad question of 'tell me what happened,” Crown told the jury. “By asking direct questions you disenfranchise the child.”
Crown said a child’s memory will be better after adolescence and their intelligence and level of fear also play a factor.
Defense attorney Michael Reiter asked Crown if he thought the children might find prosecutors to be an authority figure they might be obedient towards. He said yes.
Scott declined to testify to his defense, invoking his right to remain silent on Reiter’s advice. Scott told Steinbeck he made the decision of his own volition.
His silence could not be used against him, Steinbeck said.
After a week in the Lee County courtroom and closing statements set to run much later than expected Friday evening, jurors told Steinbeck they’d rather hold off until Monday to hear closing statements and the judge’s instructions before deliberating.
Steinbeck gave them the option to stay late and continue into Saturday or come back Monday to continue, telling them they may not have gotten into deliberations until at least 8 p.m.
“It’s really hard to know in advance what the course of a case like this will take,” Steinbeck told the jury. “There’s nothing we could have done any differently…”
Steinbeck was concerned the night would end without a verdict.
“I don’t know if this is a case that can be concluded in one night,” he said.
Steinbeck decided the trial will resume Monday morning at 10:30 a.m.