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Accused mother testifies she didn’t cause fractured skull that killed boy

UPDATED: Fri., June 15, 2018

Cynthia Khaleel, 31, takes the stand on Friday, June 15, 2018. She is on trial for second-degree murder in the death of her nephew, 5-year-old Gary Blanton III, who died in April 2015. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Cynthia Khaleel, 31, takes the stand on Friday, June 15, 2018. She is on trial for second-degree murder in the death of her nephew, 5-year-old Gary Blanton III, who died in April 2015. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Many aspects of the two-weeklong drama that has unfolded in a Spokane County courtroom don’t fit the stereotype of a murder trial.

Cynthia L. Khaleel, 31, testified Friday that she likes to look good: sharply dressed, with hair and makeup in place. Unlike virtually any other murder suspect in Spokane County, she has been free to come and go, and the cadre of court deputies that provides security and prevent suspects from escaping have been absent during the proceedings.

The second-degree murder trial neared completion Friday after Khaleel took the witness stand. She adamantly denied hurting her adoptive 5-year-old nephew, Gary Blanton III, who died in April 2015 from a fractured skull.

“I’m going to ask you very pointed questions,” defense attorney Bevan Maxey told her. “Did you go down to Gary’s room and kick him?”

“No. I would never, no,” she replied.

“Did you punch him?” Maxey asked. “I didn’t do it,” Khaleel said.

“Did you slam him to the ground … or hit him with some sort of weapon?” he asked.

“No. I just found him. I fought so hard for them. I loved them,” Khaleel said as she cried.

Prosecutors put forth no explanation for how the boy suffered a fractured skull, an injury that Dr. John Howard – who rotates each year as the Spokane County medical examiner – described as one of the worst he’s seen in 31 years of performing death examinations.

In opening arguments, Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Deric Martin suggested that Khaleel lost her temper as the result of a jumble of ongoing relationships and the stress of trying to be a “super mom” by caring for three of her own children, along with Gary and his younger brother, Skylar, who had Down syndrome, and a half-sister.

The trial will conclude Monday before Spokane County Superior Court Judge Annette Plese when attorneys are set to give closing statements. Then the jury will begin to decide the case.

On Thursday, Maxey brought out several witnesses who had seen Khaleel interact with the children in her role as mom.

Daniell Linton said she didn’t have the money to pay Khaleel, but she would often drop her son at Khaleel’s home while she worked.

“She was kind of a role model that I wanted to be with my own children,” Linton said. Khaleel “was always involved. They were her world. Everything she did revolved around them.”

Linton said when she first met Gary, he was shy. Khaleel had obtained custody of Gary and Skylar after their father, Gary Blanton Jr., was killed in 2012, in Clallam County; and their mother died in 2014 from complications related to a drug addiction.

“As (Gary) grew, he became very playful and very happy,” Linton said, beginning to cry. “He was the sweetest little boy that you could ever meet. (Khaleel) treated him like he was her own.”

Khaleel set up a separate play area for Skylar, who could only have soft toys. But she made sure the play area allowed the other children in the home to interact with him and Gary, who also was developmentally delayed.

“I loved every minute of it, even with the normal day stressors,” Khaleel said. “Being a mom was the most important thing for me. I did this because I loved them. They needed to be together.”

During his questioning, Martin, the deputy prosecutor, focused on one interaction in which Khaleel yelled an expletive at a school official with her children present.

“You weren’t able to control your anger even though Gary was in the room,” Martin said.

“It was a poor choice of words,” she responded, “but my anger was very much in control.”

Martin spent hours trying to pick away at Khaleel’s relationships. She had at least two other men in her life, despite remaining married to her husband, Ian Khaleel Jr., whom she considers her best friend.

And Martin also pushed on any small differences in the way Khaleel described the minute-by-minute explanation for how she found Gary on the floor on April 16, 2015. She told investigators that she believed that Gary crawled onto Skylar’s crib and then fell.

“Wasn’t laying Gary down the worst thing you could do?” Martin said. “Aren’t you the type of mom who would have stayed with him until it was time to wake up?”

“I didn’t know he was hurt,” Khaleel said. “I know what did and did not happen. I did not hurt him.”

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