Arkansas Democrat-Gazette , May 1, 1999

3-year-old spanked to death
By Chris Osher

A 3-year-old boy died of a severe brain injury in a Little Rock hospital Thursday,a day after his stepmother confessed to spanking and shaking him and pushing him into a bedroom dresser.

Phyllis Turner, 34, of El Dorado was charged with second-degree murder. Upon learning of Artavis Turner's death, Turner swallowed a handful of prescription pills she had hoarded while incarcerated at the Union County jail, an official there said.

She was taken to a local hospital for treatment, then released back to the jail's custody Friday.

"When they told her about the child, she just got real hysterical," said Ken Jones, an administrative assistant with the sheriff's office. Jones said he did not know what type of pills Turner had taken. Turner's attorney, George Taylor, said the woman was disconsolate over the child's death.

"She's just balled up in a ball," Taylor said. "This was not purposeful. This is an extreme act of discipline that went too far. Now she feels so guilty, we're worried about her hurting herself."

Taylor said he also was upset by the death. "When I heard the baby had died, I turned and nearly broke my hand hitting the wall," he said.

Earlier Friday, Municipal Judge George VanHook set $25,000 bond for Turner and ordered that if she's released from jail, she is to have no contact with children unless supervised by an adult.

Artavis died at Arkansas Children's Hospital after his birth mother, state prison inmate Pamela Balentine, asked that he be taken off life support. She had been given custody of the child so she could decide whether he should be kept alive.

Doctors had reported that the toddler would be able to survive only with the aid of a feeding tube and a respiratory ventilator. Artavis had been flown from El Dorado to Little Rock for emergency surgery.

El Dorado police Sgt. Joe Ward's affidavit said doctors noted that "Artavis displayed numerous signs of injuries about his body in various stages of healing."

A doctor reported that the injuries to the brain were consistent with "a high velocity acceleration-deceleration event such as would occur in a motor-vehicle collision during which the victim was restrained." The day before the child's death, Turner told police that she had to discipline Artavis after he woke her up the night of April 15 and vomited on her. She told police she started spanking the child to scold him, then began to use more force when it seemed her punishment had no effect.

"This also had no effect, and Phyllis said that she pushed Artavis backward at one point, causing him to strike a dresser in the bedroom," the affidavit stated.

The document also says that Turner reported that she tried to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation when she saw the child had stopped breathing. Two hours after the injury, she said, Artavis' father, Elvin Turner, returned from work and took the child to an emergency room. She also told police that she shook Artavis while holding his shoulders just before pushing him.

On Monday, a juvenile court judge ordered Phyllis Turner's other sons, 8 and 15, removed from Turner's home. The children have been placed with her mother, Lois Nation of El Dorado.

Joe Wray, Union County chief deputy prosecuting attorney, said the charges against Turner could be upgraded or downgraded, depending on the results of an autopsy and the medical records.

"But I doubt very seriously from what I know about the case that we would upgrade," he said.

Joe Quinn, spokesman for the state Department of Human Services, said Artavis had been brain-dead probably ever since he reached the hospital. His injuries were highly unusual for a child of his age, Quinn said. "There is every indication that if a 3-year-old has brain damage, that 3-year-old was shaken very hard, in a very violent fashion," he said. "You really, really have to shake and attack a 3-year-old to create brain damage from shaken baby syndrome."

Quinn said Human Services arranged to transfer custody of Artavis from his father to Balentine. The agency also arranged for Balentine's temporary release from the prison system's McPherson unit for women at Newport, where she is serving time for convictions of forgery, probation revocation and drug possession, Quinn said.

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