Jurors in the 397th state District spent part of the day Tuesday looking at autopsy photos of a baby boy who never lived to see his two month birthday.
Amari Long died from starvation according to a Dallas Medical examiner and his mother, Tatriauna Roberts, is charged with either knowingly, intentionally or recklessly allowing him to starve to death.
Roberts pleaded not guilty to the charge as the case began Tuesday morning.
Assistant Grayson County District Attorney Bi Hunt questioned five people to provide jurors with the information they will need to decide if Roberts is a mother who was overwhelmed with her four children under six plus an infant or if she was a woman who just didn’t do what she should have known she needed to do to help her baby survive.
The state started with Gunter Fire Chief David Gallagher who said he was called to Roberts’ home on June 12 about a call about a baby who wasn’t breathing. He said when he first entered the apartment, he saw a toddler sitting on an air mattress and he thought the case was going to turn out to be alright. That child seemed fine. But he looked past that child and saw an infant who wasn’t. Gallagher said the child was “cold to the touch” when they entered the home and he very quickly began CPR. He described the child as “very small, frail, not like a normal baby.”
Gallagher said Roberts told them she had been sleeping on the mattress with the two children when she woke up and found the infant not breathing. He said Roberts seemed upset “to a point” but stayed on the phone with someone else while answering his questions. He said the child was taken to Wilson N. Jones Regional Medical Center by ambulance but was pronounced dead there.
Dallas County Medical Examiner Emily Ogden testified that Amari Long died from malnutrition/dehydration and that the manner of death was homicide. She said she made that ruling because Amari’s lack of nutrition should have been obvious to anyone. She said she could see his ribs and his spinal column and his eyes were obviously sunken. His stomach was sunken and his skin “was tenting.” She explained tenting means that one can pull the skin up from the bones and it will stay there instead of snapping back. That, she said, is a sign of dehydration. She also said the child had very little fat on his arms or legs. As jurors looked at photos of the boy taken before the autopsy, Ogden said she found that there was nothing of nutritional value in his stomach and his intestines were filled with a bile like substance.
Ogden testified that there was no disease or defect that she could find to explain the child’s condition except for neglect. She said it appeared to her as though it had been several hours to two days since he had last eaten. And she said, his condition was not something that happened overnight.
“This is more than ‘I forgot to feed him today” kinda thing,” she said. She said this was not a case where the child had suffered from a bout of vomiting or diarrhea.
Dr. Sridevi Alapati was the pediatrician who saw Amari at Wilson N. Jones after he was born. She testified that although he was delivered at 37 weeks, he was considered a full-term baby. She said he was small for his age and suffered from hypoglycemia. She said that wasn’t really unusual because his mother is a petite woman. She said that Amari was kept in the hospital for four days and his mother was cautioned to supplement the breast feeding that she preferred with bottle feeding until he gained weight. She testified that Amari seemed to have no issues with eating while in the hospital and the food, whether it was breast milk or formula, didn’t seem to upset his stomach or cause any illness that could have contributed to his eventual malnutrition.
Alapati testified that she didn’t know until she looked back at the medical records that Amari was actually one half of a set of twins that his mother had conceived. Roberts’ attorney Garland Cardwell asked if she knew that his client had been forced to carry Amari’s twin sister to term even though she had died early in the pregnancy. Alapati said she hadn’t known that. She testified that Roberts did bring Amari in for his scheduled two-week follow up but she left before the child could be examined. Alapati said Roberts had refused to have her children vaccinated and the practice didn’t accept clients whose children were not vaccinated. Alapati said her staff would have given Roberts a list of pediatricians who did take children who were not vaccinated. She also said if Roberts had expressed concern over Amari at the visit, she would have examined him.
Cardwell again asked about any diseases that might have contributed to Amari’s death. None of the medical witnesses who testified Tuesday agreed that anything other than lack of food and liquids contributed to his death.
The last witness of the day was Roberts’ Aunt Leonora Marshall who testified that her niece had lived with her in Sherman for sometime back in 2017. Marshall testified that she worked nights as an licensed vocational nurse at WNJ so she didn’t see much of Roberts or her children.
“They were asleep when I came in,” she said.
Later she added that she would just come home, take a shower and go to bed.
When asked if she ever noticed that Amari was too small, she denied holding the child.
“There was no need for me to do anything for that baby because his parents were there,” she told Hunt.
When Hunt questioned if she ever just wanted to hold the baby, Marshall said there were enough children running around the house that she wouldn’t need to hold Amari.
Marshall did say that Roberts expressed some concerns to her about whether or not the breast milk Roberts was producing was enough nutrition for Amari.
“I told her to keep trying,” Roberts said.
The case continues Wednesday and is expected to go through Friday.
Jerrie Whiteley is the Criminal Justice Editor for the Herald Democrat. She can be reached at JWhiteley@HeraldDemocrat.com.