Soilberry murder conviction upheld

ALBANY, Ga. — The Georgia Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the murder conviction and life prison sentence given to a Dougherty man for beating to death his girlfriend’s 3-year-old son after the toddler soiled himself.

In 2009, Vincent Soilberry was convicted by a Dougherty Superior Court jury of malice murder, felony murder, two counts of cruelty to children in the first degree, aggravated assault and two counts of aggravated battery. He was sentenced to life plus 40 years in prison.

According to the evidence, Soilberry — who was about 18 years old at the time — was babysitting his girlfriend’s son, Shondorius Roney, when he called 911 in the early hours of May 2, 2008. Paramedics found the child in an empty bathtub covered with feces and having trouble breathing. He died soon afterward.

Initially, Soilberry told police and a nurse at the hospital that he’d left the child in the bathtub for a few moments while he mopped the floor in the other room. Later, after he was given his Miranda warning, Soilberry confessed that when the child soiled his pants, he flew into a rage, punched him in his right side and kneed him in the chest.

According to the medical examiner, the child had numerous injuries, including rib fractures, head injuries, a heart contusion and bruises and abrasions. He suffered a severe beating that included hitting, stomping and thrashing with an object consistent with the curtain rod found in the child’s bedroom. The most serious of his injuries was the blunt force injury to his abdomen that lacerated the child’s liver and caused rapid blood loss.

On appeal, Soilberry argued the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict and his statements to police should have been suppressed as he did not make them voluntarily. At trial, Soilberry testified that all his previous accounts of what had happened were lies and that, in fact, Shondorius was killed by vengeful junkies after a drug deal soured.

In Monday’s opinion written by Justice Harold Melton, the state Supreme Court rejected his arguments. The evidence “was amply sufficient to enable the jurors to find Soilberry guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted beyond a reasonable doubt,” the opinion says. “Soilberry’s contention that his confession that he hit the child was involuntary is also wholly meritless.”

However, the trial court erred by failing to merge Soilberry’s conviction for aggravated battery into his conviction for murder, the opinion states. As a result, the high court has thrown out his 20-year sentence for that crime and is sending the case back to the trial court to correct his sentence.