March 20, 2007 in City

Summer’s last day

Thomas Clouse And Christopher Rodkey Staff writers
 
Jed Conklin photo

Summer Phelps’ stepmother, Adriana Lytle, looks at her husband, Jonathan Lytle, and silently says “I love you” as he is escorted from Spokane County Superior Court on Monday. The couple are charged with homicide by abuse in the death of Summer, 4.
(Full-size photo)

Online

A link to the search warrant affidavit is packaged with this story at spokesmanreview.com.

Hours before Summer Phelps died, her father took her on one last car ride.

Jonathan Lytle told police he didn’t want the 4-year-old girl, who was already bruised and battered from abuse, to disrupt a visit by a nurse to the family’s Monroe Street home in Spokane, according to a search warrant filed Monday.

But he also took the opportunity, during a stop at a Cheney grocery store parking lot during that March 10 outing, to speak to his daughter about “cleaning up her messes and being a better girl,” the documents state. The two went to a comic book store to wait out the nurse and then went home about 12:30 p.m., and Summer went directly to the bathroom and began washing urine-soaked clothes in a bathtub.

According to police, the girl died about nine hours later while still in the bathroom, about the time Lytle received a delivery of Kentucky Fried Chicken to his apartment at 707 N. Monroe. He took the girl to Deaconess Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

Lytle, 28, and his 32-year-old wife, Adriana Lytle, who is Summer’s stepmother, are charged with homicide by abuse.

They were in Superior Court on Monday for a hearing at which Judge Greg Sypolt agreed to delay Summer’s funeral by at most 10 days so defense attorneys can hire an independent pathologist to conduct a second autopsy.

Assistant Public Defender John Whaley acknowledged that the delay would be difficult for Summer’s birth mother and other members of the family.

“It’s not surprising at all that the family wants this over with. We certainly don’t want to cause more heartache for the victims,” he said.

Summer’s family had hoped to hold a funeral this past weekend.

Sypolt agreed to the delay but instructed the defense that “time is of the essence.” He also instructed the defense to conduct the autopsy in an “efficient and as dignified a manner as possible.”

Court documents also filed Monday reveal many new details about Summer’s last hours, based on information that police say Jonathan and Adriana Lytle told them during interviews. According to the documents:

“ Jonathan Lytle told police that Summer woke up and urinated in her clothes and on the floor. As a result, she was forced to wash the towels and clothes from 8:30 a.m. until 10 a.m. in the bathtub.

“ A nurse was scheduled to check in on the Lytles’ infant son, Johnny, in the morning, so Jonathan Lytle “took Summer for a drive to Cheney so Summer would not disrupt the nurse’s visit.”

“ Summer had many injuries, including a serious burn to her face. Police wrote that Jonathan Lytle told them he saw Summer “sleeping with her face against the steam radiator in their apartment” and that’s how the burn occurred.

“ Police initially thought some of Summer’s injuries might have been caused by sexual abuse.

In interviews, both Jonathan and Adriana Lytle told police that Jonathan had poked Summer in the buttocks with a mop handle to force her to stand up straight while washing clothes. Spokane County Medical Examiner Dr. Sally Aiken said the girl had not been sexually abused, so police did not pursue further charges, said Sgt. Joe Peterson with the Spokane Police Department.

Aiken ruled that Summer died from homicide but has not released a specific cause of death.

The second autopsy “is basically to find any evidence that we don’t know about,” Whaley said. “The body is in somebody’s storage somewhere. We haven’t seen it. There may be other causes of death other than the one the coroner comes up with.”

Whaley said he understands that Aiken’s findings may take another two to three more months to complete.

“By that time, obviously, all the evidence will be gone,” Whaley said. “The judge has given us seven to 10 days and I feel we can get it done in that time. This is an unusual type of procedure.”

Whaley said the defense hasn’t found a pathologist yet to conduct the second autopsy.

The Lytles were arrested March 11 after Jonathan Lytle took Summer to Deaconess.

The little girl had bruises from her thighs up to her head and had clumps of hair missing. She could not be revived. Detectives found a bite mark, a burn mark and extensive injuries.

Homicide by abuse normally carries a maximum penalty of 26 1/2 years in prison. However, prosecutors last week added three aggravating factors to the Lytles’ charges, including violating a position of trust, deliberate cruelty and a particularly vulnerable victim. If found guilty, a judge could sentence them to life in prison, Whaley said.

Both Lytles are scheduled to appear at 4 p.m. Wednesday for an arraignment before Superior Court Judge Michael Price.


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