Jurors in the 397th state district court got most of the day off Thursday. They will return to court on Friday when they are expected to continue to hear about the death of a nearly eight-week old baby back in the spring of 2017.
Amori Long died, a Dallas medical examiner testified earlier this week, of starvation and dehydration. His mother, Tatiauna Roberts is facing charges of injury to a child with serious bodily injury in Amori’s death. She has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Roberts called emergency responders to her apartment in Gunter back in June 12, 2017 and said she woke from a nap to find him not breathing.
Thursday, Assistant Grayson County District Attorney Bi Hunt called Dr. Joseph Lipscomb to tell the jurors what it must have been like for Amori Long to die of starvation.
While on the stand, Lipscomb talked about the difference between failure to thrive and starving to death. He also talked about what the latter would feel like. He said at first the baby would have cried a lot as its body began to feed on its own stores of fat and other substances. Lipscomb said as the situation grew worse over time, the baby probably wouldn’t have had the energy to cry out very much and likely slipped into a coma before dying.
Roberts wiped at her eyes repeatedly during Lipscomb’s testimony about the agony her child likely felt as he was dying. Lipscomb said the child would have felt like he was drowning which Lipscomb said, is the worst form of death.
“It’s like muscle cramps in your entire body,” Lipscomb said in describing the way the baby would have felt as he continued to go without proper nutrition.
He said the baby might even have had agonal breathing in the last few hours of life.
Roberts’ defense attorney Garland Cardwell asked if the baby might have died from a condition called “failure to thrive.” Lipscomb explained that failure to thrive is a global phrase used to describe a child who is not getting enough nutrition to grow but it doesn’t explain why they are not getting that nutrition. He said if a child is diagnosed with that in the clinical or hospital setting, the child would be admitted to the hospital for a few days to see if regular feeding helps the child to gain weight.
If the child gains weight, he said, then doctors know that the child’s body is doing what it needs to do with the calories once it gets them. Doctors then have to look at why the child is not getting the calories. Lipscomb said while there are some disorders that can keep a child’s body from doing what it should with the calories, most can be addressed if caught quickly. Most often, he said, the problem is the parents aren’t feeding the child properly.
Lipscomb said that was most definitely the case Amori’s death.
Cardwell asked if the mother might not have been able to detect the warning signs that her infant was in danger of starving to death if the mother were going through a depression caused by the death of Amori’s twin, a baby girl who died in the womb. Roberts had to continue with the pregnancy until Amori was ready to be born.
Lipscomb said that a depression might explain her lack of recognition of the seriousness of the issue, but noted that postpartum depression usually starts about six weeks after the baby’s birth.
“It would (have to be) severe,” he said. He added that “it is my best moms that get postpartum depression. The ones who worry over every detail.”
Cardwell called Roberts’ cousin Henrietta Wilks to the stand as his first witness in the case. She testified that she never saw her cousin do anything to endanger any of her children. Wilks testified that she often left her own son alone with Roberts while Wilks worked waitressing shifts at night in Dallas.
She testified that she didn’t hold Amori very much because she gets nervous holding newborns. She said she didn’t notice him looking like he wasn’t getting enough food and Roberts never discussed any concerns she might have had about the baby not getting enough food.
The court session ended for the day Thursday with Judge Brian Gary sending the jury home before noon. He gave the jury the rest of the day off while attorneys attempted to iron out the possible testimony that could be offered by Cardwell’s expert Dr. Charles Kennan, a local psychologist.
Jerrie Whiteley is the Criminal Justice Editor for the Herald Democrat. She can be reached at JWhiteley@HeraldDemocrat.com.