Five-year-old Gary Blanton III either accidentally fell from his brother’s crib and fractured his skull, or the boy was the assault victim of a frustrated aunt whose nerves snapped as she tried her best to play the role of a “super mom.”
Attorneys laid out both cases Wednesday as the second-degree murder trial of Cynthia L. Khaleel, 31, began after two days of jury selection. Khaleel was arrested following the April 17, 2015, death of “Little Gary” who suffered a skull fracture so severe that medical intervention had no chance to save him.
“He had a very troubled life. It was short. It was difficult,” Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Deric Martin said of Gary.
The boy’s father, Gary Blanton Jr., was slain in 2012 by a killer stalking registered sex offenders in Clallam County. Gary’s mother, Leslie Blanton, died in 2014 from complications from a drug addiction.
Khaleel is the sister of Gary Blanton Jr. and sought custody of Gary III, who was developmentally delayed; little brother Skylar, who has Down syndrome; and Destiny, a half sister born to Leslie Blanton and another man in 2013.
All three children had ended up in separate foster homes, but Khaleel – who is part Native American and had three children of her own – sought to reunite them. That plan was later endorsed by leaders from five Native American tribes.
“She was admired for being willing to be an advocate for these children,” Martin, the deputy prosecutor, said. “The things that she was doing took a toll on her. She faced enormous pressures … that she really didn’t have a lot of control over.”
Gary had little or no verbal skills, sometimes bit other children and often acted out with “major behavioral problems that Ms. Khaleel had to deal with,” Martin said. Because the boy tended to wander from his room and even his home, Khaleel had placed an alarm on his door and a monitor in his room to keep tabs on him.
“It was important for Ms. Khaleel to be a super mom,” Martin said. “But it was too much.”
After having spent months in a legal battle to obtain her brother’s children, Khaleel received a $17,000 legal bill just days before paramedics rushed to the Chattaroy home.
“I seriously don’t know what to do anymore,” Khaleel texted the father of her other children days before the incident. “I seriously think I’m going to have a psychotic breakdown.”
Khaleel later told paramedics she heard a thump in the downstairs bedroom, directly under where she sleeps, at about 5 a.m. on April 17, 2015. She indicated that the boy had fallen and pointed to pain in his ear, according to her court testimony.
Khaleel told authorities that she gave the boy a Motrin and put him back to bed. She then began the process of getting the other children ready for their day and went back to check on Gary some three hours later.
She immediately noticed him unresponsive and his pupils were different sizes, she said. She called 911 and paramedics rushed to the scene. Upon learning the extent of Gary’s injuries, the paramedics called for a helicopter to transport him to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center where doctors tried in vain to save him.
“He was doomed from the moment of his injury,” Martin said.
The autopsy later revealed that Gary suffered a “complex” skull facture that involved multiple broken bones. The death is also the subject of a civil suit filed by the boy’s grandmother against the Washington Department of Social and Health Services and the Riverside School District alleging that state and school officials missed signs of abuse.
Martin said the autopsy also revealed that Gary had an injury to his abdomen. It was a “deep contusion that involved internal bleeding, something that can’t be explained by the fall that Gary allegedly suffered.”
The prosecution plans to bring a medical expert to show that the injury to Gary’s abdomen was consistent with “a child being kicked at or stomped on,” Martin said, and that the injury was “entirely implausible” to have come from a fall.
“It is highly unlikely that Ms. Khaleel went downstairs and intended to kill Gary,” he said. “It’s because she couldn’t control herself.”
Defense attorney Bevan Maxey denied that his client assaulted the boy. He noted that she readily spoke with paramedics, hospital officials and later Spokane County Sheriff’s detective Mike Drapeau.
She willingly allowed her interview to be recorded and gave investigators permission to search her home for potential evidence.
“When tragedy occurs that results in the death of a child … it doesn’t seem fair,” Maxey told the jury. “Life doesn’t seem fair. But in life, things happen that are beyond our personal control. If we are lucky, those accidents are insignificant and our lives go on.”
Maxey said it appears that Gary tried to crawl over a crib that tipped, causing the boy to fall backwards onto the cement floor covered “with a little bit of carpet.”
“We will suggest to you that that is … not the result of actions taken by Ms. Khaleel,” he said. “This case is based on conjecture.”
Khaleel was taking Gary to speech therapy twice a week and Skylar remained in diapers. “She worked diligently on all of that. Ms. Cynthia Khlaeel was extremely dedicated to these children. Of course, she had her own children.”
She bought special toys so that Gary and his brother would not hurt themselves.
“Gary would get frustrated and throw himself down … and bang his head into the car window. This is not to describe him as a bad child,” Maxey said. “It’s just to describe the things she was dealing with.”
The family lived in the country and Khaleel had other children in the home. “They would rough house and at times they would get bumps and bruises. With any parent, she had to deal with the stresses of life.”
“The evidence will show that Cynthia Khaleel was a tireless advocate for Gary Blanton, to a fault,” Maxey said. “She worked to get the services for him … so ultimately he could succeed.”
On the day before the death, after running errands, the family gathered and the children were taking videos, dancing and singing, he said.
“At 5 a.m., she hears a thud and crying. She finds Gary on the floor. He’s complaining his ear is hurting. She puts him back to bed,” he continued. “She saw no blood. She had no idea he suffered from the type of injury that was later discovered.”
Two hours later, she texted her significant other to tell him that Gary had fallen out Skylar’s crib and hurt his ear, Maxey said.
Defense will counter with its own medical experts who are expected to testify that a short fall on a flat surface can cause the skull fracture like Gary suffered.
“We believe our expert will testify that the injuries are consistent with the scenario described by Ms. Khaleel,” he said. “At the end of this case, we are going to ask you to find that the injuries were not caused by Ms. Cynthia Khaleel and ask you to find that this was in fact a tragic accident.”