Georgia Supreme Court upholds life sentence in Decatur County baby’s murder

(Albany Herald file photo)

ATLANTA — A Decatur County man convicted of killing his 2-month-old baby girl by violently shaking her, squeezing her and slamming her head against a hard surface in 2012 will remain in prison for life under a decision announced Tuesday by the Georgia Supreme Court.

According to the unanimous opinion, written by Justice David Nahmias, Deonte T’varis Smith has lost his appeal of the convictions for murder and child cruelty that he received in Decatur County Superior Court for killing his daughter, Keymaya Smith.

“[W]e have reviewed the record and conclude that, when viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence presented at trial …was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find Appellant [Smith] guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of felony murder,” the opinion says.

According to the facts of the case in the Supreme Court news release Tuesday, on the evening of April 12, 2012, Smith was at his trailer with the baby and the baby’s mother, Shamiah Rainey, her 1-year-old son and Smith’s sister. The baby had been fussy and the last time Keymaya woke up crying, Smith went into her room alone. Later, Rainey went into the baby’s room, saw Keymaya and told Smith they needed to take her to the hospital immediately.

When they reached the Bainbridge hospital, the baby wasn’t breathing, and a nurse noticed bruising on her abdomen and cheek. The infant was taken by ambulance to a neonatal intensive care unit at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital across the state border.

At the hospital in Tallahassee, a neonatologist found through a CT scan of the baby’s head multiple areas of hemorrhaging, signs of brain death, and “tremendous injury” to her head that could not have been caused by being dropped or falling from a bed or chair, as the defense later suggested at trial, the news release said. Keymaya was pronounced dead the next night.

The neonatologist also testified, saying that Smith’s explanation of what had happened to the baby – that he had held her up so she could have a bowel movement, that he had fed her, and that she had vomited and quit breathing – did not explain her severe injuries. The medical examiner concluded the cause of death was abusive head and neck trauma. The autopsy revealed injuries over the baby’s entire body, hemorrhages on her head and in her brain, and on her leg and spinal cord; fractured ribs, leg and arm that had been broken at various times; swelling and detachment of her brain inside the skull; and internal severance of her neck.

In February 2014, a trial jury convicted Smith of felony murder, child cruelty, aggravated assault and aggravated battery and he was sentenced to life in prison. Smith appealed, arguing that his convictions should be reversed because the trial judge erred in allowing the medical examiner to use a doll in courtroom demonstration of how the injuries were inflicted and in overruling his attorney’s objection to questioning about his tattoos.

The high court found no error in the use of the doll but said the trial court erred in allowing in a long line of questioning by the prosecutor about Smith’s arm tattoos. “Nevertheless,” the opinion said, “we are confident that any such error was harmless.”

The Supreme Court ruled that Smith was not entitled to a new trial and the judgment against him was affirmed.

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