Jurors took a little over an hour Friday to convict Tatriauna Roberts, 25, of Gunter, of first degree injury to a child in the starvation death of her eight-week old son. Roberts elected to allow Judge Brian Gary set her punishment.
A sentencing hearing will be held at a later date. Grayson County District Attorney Brett Smith said the punishment Roberts faces could range from probation to life in prison.
The case began back on June 12, 2017 when Roberts called for help for her son, Amori Long. Gunter Police and Fire Department both sent responders to her apartment. When those responders arrived, they found Amori cold to the touch and unresponsive. Though paramedics tried, they were not able to revive the baby who was pronounced dead at Wilson N. Jones Regional Medical Center in Sherman.
Roberts did not testify during the week-long trial. Her attorney Garland Cardwell urged jurors, during his closing arguments in the case, to see her as someone who was maybe recklessly neglectful of her infant’s needs as she dealt with postpartum depression, grief over the loss of Amori’s twin who died in the womb and the needs of her four other children under the age of six.
“This is probably the worst child abuse case on which I have ever worked,” said Assistant Grayson County District Attorney Bi Hunt in a written statement after the verdict. “How a mother could allow her baby to simply waste away is beyond my comprehension. Holding this defendant accountable by the guilty verdict today is justice for that infant. The jury sent that message by their verdict.”
“We hope this guilty verdict serves as a deterrent for any parent who thinks they can abuse a child. Whether by starvation, physical abuse, or any other manner… be prepared for a Grayson County jury to hold you accountable,” said District Attorney Brett Smith in the written statement.
Earlier in the week, jurors had heard from a Dallas County medical examiner who said the infant had nothing in his stomach when he arrived at her office. She also said she should could not find evidence that he had eaten anything in a period that could have been as short as many hours to as long as days. She testified that his death would have been a painful one as his body broke down its own stores of fat and protein to try to sustain life. She said the infants visible rips and pronounced spinal column along with his sunken eyes and stomach should have been visible evidence that he was in jeopardy.
Prosecutors provided the jury with medical records from Roberts’ previous pregnancies that she showed she was told then that she couldn’t make enough breast milk to sustain a baby and should supplement with formula.
The state also brought witnesses who testified that Roberts didn’t keep follow-up appointments for the infant which prevented medical personnel from being able to intervene in the baby’s best interest.
In his closing arguments, Cardwell brought up a point that might have been on the minds of many in the courtroom when he said Roberts wasn’t the only adult in the apartment on the day that Amori died. The infant’s’ father, who has not be charged in the case, was also at the apartment. Testimony revealed that he had been living with Roberts and their children at her aunt’s house in Sherman both before Amori was born and after. Cardwell asked why the father wasn’t facing similar charges when he had the same responsibility to see to that the child was fed as the mother.
He said the mother didn’t consciously disregard the child’s suffering. She might have been criminally neglectful, he said, but she didn’t intend to starve her child to death.
In her closing, Hunt said that Roberts herself told investigators that she was the person responsible for taking care of and feeding the baby. She was the one who would have held his tiny bony body while she attempted to feed and change his diapers so she was the one who should have seen what was happening to the infant.
Roberts five other children are in the care of Child Protective Services.
Grayson County District Attorney’s Investigator Tim Murrin assisted the prosecution.
Jerrie Whiteley is the Criminal Justice Editor for the Herald Democrat. She can be reached at JWhiteley@HeraldDemocrat.com.