BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - An 8-year-old boy has been charged with the murder of a 1-year-old girl who was left at a home without adult supervision while their mothers went clubbing last month, according to Birmingham police.
Police said some point that night, the 8-year-old boy "viciously attacked" the 1-year-old little girl because she wouldn't stop crying. She ultimately died from severe head trauma and major internal organ damage.
Police say Katerra Lewis, 26, left her 1-year-old daughter Kelci Lewis alone at the home, along with at least five other children ranging from 2 to 8 years old, to go clubbing with her friend, the homeowner and mother of the other children.
"The sad part is you had an adult mother here who had the audacity to leave her 1-year-old in the custody of several other children at the house and none of those kids were over the age of 8...and so decided to go out to the club for that night, leave those kids there alone and unfortunately an 8-year-old was extremely agitated, it appeared, and really attacked the child," Birmingham Police Lt. Sean Edwards said in a news conference on Tuesday.
Katerra Lewis has been charged with manslaughter in the case, which her attorney questions.
"The manslaughter statute deals with someone's action, as far as, acting in the heat of passion or acting in a reckless manner, not a person allowing some other person to act in a dangerous manner," said attorney Emory Anthony.
Lewis turned herself in on Monday night, posted a $15,000 bond and has been released from the Jefferson County Jail.
"I think they are trying to allege that she was reckless or negligent in some particular way, and we'll have to deal with that. Of course my client has a different story about what transpired," said Anthony.
Edwards said Katerra Lewis stays at the home in the 7100 block of 2nd Avenue South with her friend, who is the mother of the 8-year-old boy charged with murder and the four other children who were left at the home. He said Lewis and her friend left their kids alone around 11 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10 to go to the club, according to police.
The mothers got home around 2 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 11 but did not check on their children, Edwards said in a news conference on Tuesday. Police weren't called until 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 11 and at that point, it was too late for little Kelci.
Police say when Katerra Lewis got up the next morning, she found her 1-year-old daughter unresponsive in her crib where the 8-year-old placed her after killing her.
Lt. Edwards said if the mothers had checked on the children when they got home, police would have probably arrived earlier and with medical help, there's a chance that Kelci's death could have been prevented.
Paramedics took Kelci to Children's of Alabama Hospital where she was pronounced dead. After being examined by the Jefferson County Coroner, her death was ruled a homicide, police announced the day after her death.
The coroner told police that she had bruises indicating she had experienced some kind of trauma.
The 8-year-old charged with Kelci's murder is now in custody of DHR, according to the Birmingham Police Department. Criminal law attorney Clayton Tartt said the likelihood of the child being tried as an adult is slim. As for the child's future, Tartt says once legal proceedings are over, the child could stay in DHR custody or he could go to a detention facility.
"This is by far one of the saddest cases that I've witnessed and been a part of ever since I became a police officer," Edwards said.
He said he saluted the officers who did "gut-wrenching work" to thoroughly investigate the case over several weeks, making sure to dot each "i" and cross each "t" in this unprecedented case.
He said Police Chief A.C. Roper commented that during his 30 years of working in law enforcement, he had never seen a case as heartbreaking as this one.
Edwards said the Birmingham Police Department has never charged someone as young as 8 with murder. He could not recall any other cases with suspects whose ages were in the single digits.
"We did have some information that the 8-year-old got extremely agitated because the 1-year-old refused to stop crying and so I guess the 8-year-old took it upon himself and began to commit violent acts against the 1-year-old," Edwards said.
He said investigators are still struggling to process how an 8-year-old could even have "that much evil in his heart" to kill the little girl.
"No education, no school, no degree, no training can really prepare you for an 8-year-old committing a heinous crime like this," Edwards said.
Edwards said they believe the 8-year-old caused all of the bruises that were seen on Kelci Lewis' body, and that the coroner's report shows the toddler was beaten.
"The 8-year-old just recklessly, viciously dealt with the 1-year-old. If you can imagine…the damage that it takes to cause severe blunt trauma to the head and organs, it's pretty rough," he said.
He said that DHR and the family court system will determine what will happen next for the 8-year-old boy, but he believes it will involved some intensive counseling, intervention and a support system.
"It's hard to process an 8-year-old actually going to that level of extreme violence. And it's kind of difficult…But you know, it's new territory and I believe, I'm confident enough that everybody that's involved as it relates to this 8-year-old, I hope they do the right thing as far as getting him counseling and the proper punishment, whatever is necessary for the 8-year-old," he said.
"I want to stay hopeful for him," Edwards added.
Edwards added that their witnesses to the case, the other four children in the home, were as young as six or seven years old.
"For them to try to explain what they saw is very heart-wrenching but the details are very graphic," he said.
Edwards said one young witness was very clear about the details, which matched up to the victim's injuries and were pertinent to charging the 8-year-old with murder.
"But it was just one particular kid that was able to really communicate with the investigators to give us some key information to help us paint the picture of actually what happened," he said.
All four of the other children who were in the home are currently in DHR custody.
Mary Russell, the assistant District Attorney for Jefferson County who is handling the case, said she could not yet give an answer on whether or not the mother of the 8-year-old boy and the four other children would face charges in the case. At this time, she has not been charged.
Edwards said Katerra Lewis has been cooperative, and he thinks the reality of her choice on that night is starting to set in.
"I think her punishment is going to be something she'll have to live with the rest of her life, her actions that night, choosing the club over taking care of her 1-year-old, it's going to stick with her the rest of her life," he said.