Cynthia L. Khaleel was either a “supermom” who lost her temper and did something to fracture the skull of her adoptive nephew; or she was wrongfully charged with murder for a tragic accident that killed a 5-year-old boy.
The jury on Monday began deliberating the fate of Khaleel, 31, of Chattaroy, who was charged with second-degree murder after the 2015 death of 5-year-old Gary Blanton III. He suffered a fractured skull that prosecutors said was too severe to have come from a short fall.
The jury worked for about three hours Monday before they went home. Jurors will continue deliberations at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Deric Martin suggested earlier in the trial that suspects can sometimes manufacture favorable evidence. He said that in regards to a video that Khaleel filmed on the night before she called 911 on April 17, 2015, to report Gary’s injury.
The video shows Khaleel’s three biological children along with Gary, his little brother, Skylar, and half-sister, Destiny, all laughing and dancing for a cellphone video.
“Think of the stressors she put on herself. She wanted everybody to know that she was the supermom. The house looked perfect. The kids looked perfect. She looked perfect. She wanted everybody to see the person completely in control, from looks to conduct, the perfect mother,” Martin said. “The stress was just too much.”
Martin told the jury that the state did not have to show that Khaleel had planned to kill Gary.
“It’s never been the state’s position that she had a motive to murder him,” Martin said. “Her intent when she went downstairs … was to assault him. And it doesn’t matter if the intent was formed the moment she grabbed him.”
Martin suggested that Khaleel, who had no previous allegations of child abuse, could have slammed Gary to the ground, kicked him, punched him or “stomped on his head” to fracture his skull. He told the jury to disregard the notion that investigators could never say how Gary suffered the injury.
Dr. John Howard, the Spokane County medical examiner, and another medical expert, testified that Gary’s fractures did not appear to have come from a fall from climbing on a crib that tipped over.
“The two people who know the most … tell you unequivocally that this was is not a short fall. This is a homicide. Period,” Martin said. “Trust the medical evidence in this case and find Ms. Khaleel guilty of causing Gary’s death.”
But defense attorney Bevan Maxey reminded the jury that Khaleel did not hesitate to speak with a detective, to have her statement recorded or to let other detectives search her home. They found a scene exactly the way Khaleel described and no signs of a struggle.
“They are asking you to find her guilty not based on proof but these opinions … from people who were not there,” Maxey said. “They are asking you to follow them like lemmings off the cliff.”
He said the alleged assault does not fit the profile of a woman who legally fought to reunite Gary and his siblings. Gary alone had bounced to four different foster homes after his father was murdered in 2012 and his mother died in 2014 from complications of a drug addiction.
“Gary Blanton had finally come into a home where he was surrounded by love. He finally was receiving the attention he required,” Maxey said. “There was one person willing to make the sacrifices to keep these children together. She’s sitting right there.”
But the state executed a “not-so-subtle character assassination” based on Khaleel’s unconventional marriage and multiple relationships with other men, Maxey said.
“The prosecution portrays her as a criminal mastermind. Their motive is not supported by the evidence. It’s just a suggestion,” Maxey said. “Why? They have to do that because they have to come up with a way that this makes sense.”
Maxey called witnesses who cited scientific studies showing that short falls can cause fractured skulls. Khaleel said she found Gary on the floor next to his bed. She gave him ice and a pain killer before putting him back in bed.
She called 911 on that day when she later found Gary unresponsive.
“We believe the evidence suggests it happened in this particular case,” Maxey said. “They suggest he was kicked or punched. Where are those injuries?”
He asked the jury to judge the demeanor of Khaleel and other witnesses who testified about how hard she worked to provide a loving family.
“She did not cause his death,” Maxey said. “We ask you to find her not guilty.”
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