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Cox found guilty in baby's death

March 25, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- A Jefferson County jury needed a little more than two hours Wednesday afternoon to find Michael Todd Cox guilty in the death of a 2-month-old infant in December 2007.

Cox, 41, of Germantown, Md., showed little emotion as the jury's verdict was read aloud by a deputy circuit clerk just after 4 p.m.

Cox was found guilty of one felony count of child abuse by a custodian resulting in the death of Colton Lee James of Jefferson County in December 2007.

Cox is scheduled to be sentenced June 8 by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders.

Colton, who was his then-girlfriend's son, died Dec. 10, 2007, at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., four days after the child's great-grandmother first noticed the boy's health appeared to be deteriorating.

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The cause of the boy's death was blunt force trauma to the head, and a medical examination in Washington revealed the infant's skull had been fractured on the left side.

Jefferson County assistant prosecuting attorneys Brandon "Brandy" Sims and Hassan Rasheed said Wednesday afternoon they will ask the court for an enhanced prison sentence given the defendant's criminal past. Cox was convicted of voluntary manslaughter after he was arrested in 1992 in the death of another infant, Amber Koehler. Amber, about 11 months old, also died from blunt force trauma to the head and her injuries were very similar to Colton's, experts testified this week.

"We believe we have two prior qualifying convictions (in Maryland)," Sims said. Sims said the other prior might have been a property crime.

If two prior felony convictions are validated through a jury or bench trial, Cox would be sentenced to life in prison with mercy, meaning he only would have the opportunity for parole after serving 15 years, Sims and Rasheed said. An enhanced sentence still would be possible if only one prior felony conviction was validated as well, according to the prosecutor's office.

Sanders could order Cox to serve between 10 and 40 years in prison just for the felony conviction decided Wednesday, Sims said.

Surrounded by family and friends, Colton's mother, Kathy James, cried quietly after the verdict was announced.

After the jurors were dismissed from the courtroom, James said the family was thankful for the verdict and the efforts of the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney's office.

"God's pulled us through this," said James, adding she didn't want Cox to ever be released from prison.

Colton's great-grandmother, Mary Fowler, said the boy's death has been difficult for the family.

"I prayed that the Lord would have his way with things," Fowler said as she slowly made her way out of the courtroom.

Before the verdict was announced, Sanders told about 25 people seated in the gallery any outburst would be treated as contempt of court and indicated he was aware there had been "very unfortunate" conduct outside the courtroom that apparently was being investigated by police.

Sheriff Robert E. "Bobby" Shirley and three ranking deputies joined court security staff and the court bailiff in the courtroom for the reading of the verdict. No arrests were made.

In closing arguments, Kratovil told the jurors the state's case primarily relied upon his client's past conviction and the only way they could convict him was if they said to themselves that "Michael Cox is a bad person."

The defense attorney pointed to conflicting testimony of his expert, neuropsychiatrist Lawson F. Bernstein Jr., and Lois Goslinoski, the deputy medical examiner. Bernstein estimated the internal head trauma would have become apparent within minutes, versus the three to four hours Goslinoski had said could pass before swelling would trigger noticeable brain trauma symptoms.

In his closing, Rasheed said Fowler's testimony included her observation something was wrong with the child Dec. 6 about 3:45 p.m.., which was within four hours after Cox was left alone with Colton and his older brother, while their mother was shopping. She returned home about 12:15 p.m.

"His actions and his actions alone ... have caused his death," Rasheed told the jury.

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