FLORIDA – When parents kill children, death penalty is rare, experts say …

february 2, 2014 (orlondosentinel)

After a kick to the head, 15-pound infant Ayden Perry had no chance for survival, police said.


Ayden was 2 months, 23 days old when he was pronounced dead last February, and St. Cloud police say his sleep-deprived father, Larry Perry, delivered the fatal blow.


That beating on Feb. 13, 2013, put Perry on the short list of Central Florida parents deemed among the worst — suspects who could face capital punishment if convicted of killing their own children.

Six Central Florida children died in 2013 as a result of abuse or neglect from parents or guardians, the Florida Department of Children and Families said.


Of those cases, Ayden’s and Ke’Andre Coleman’s fatal beatings were the only ones to become death-penalty cases in Central Florida.

Ke’Andre’s mother, Mikkia Lewis, and her boyfriend, Joe McCaskell, are accused of beating and torturing the 4-year-old boy to death in April in South Daytona, an arrest report said.


A medical examiner said Ke’Andre was severely beaten with two shoes and forced to exercise to exhaustion. His shoulders were dislocated and his thighs were hemorrhaging.


McCaskell, 32, admitted to beating the child and told investigators he saw Lewis, 22, beat Ke’Andre while screaming that she didn’t want him anymore, the report states.


A grand jury indicted the couple on first-degree murder charges in August and Volusia County prosecutors filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty in October.


For Perry, prosecutors initially decided not to pursue death but then switched gears and filed a notice of intent in December, nearly a year after his young son’s killing.


Experts say unless parents have a history of violent behavior, it’s rare for parents accused of killing their own children to become candidates for the death penalty — which is usually set aside for the most egregious acts of premeditated murder.


And it’s even more rare for a jury to actually recommend death for these parents after a guilty verdict.


That’s because, although they won’t excuse the crime, jurors can sympathize with crimes of passion provoked by complex and deep-seated mental health or family issues, according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, D.C.-based research nonprofit.


“There are understandable difference between that and a serial killer,” Dieter said. “The family dynamics that lead to that kind of murder, it’s something juries can relate to — even if they would never do it.”

In the last child-abuse death-penalty case resolved in Central Florida, Orange County father Keith Skinner pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of aggravated child abuse to avoid a possible death sentence.


Skinner was released from prison in 2008 after serving four years on a separate child-abuse conviction, Department of Corrections records show.


After his release, Skinner had another child and in 2010, he beat that child — 8-month-old Triumph Skinner — to death.


Ayden’s mom couldn’t pay bail


Perry had no criminal history before his arrest in Ayden’s death.


He had been caring for Ayden alone for about two weeks after the boy’s mother, Kathy Barnes, was arrested on charges of trafficking oxycodone. Bail for Barnes had been set at $50,000 and she was forced to stay in the Osceola County Jail because she couldn’t pay.

On Feb. 13, Perry told police that no matter what he did, he couldn’t get Ayden to stop crying.

In the autopsy report, a medical examiner noted that before the beating, Ayden had likely been well taken care of. He was developing normally and growing at a healthy rate. The nearly 3-month-old weighed 15 pounds and was 23 inches long the evening of his death.

That night, Perry said he tried to quiet Ayden by first turning on the vacuum cleaner, hoping the drone would soothe him. When that didn’t work, Perry put the boy in a rocking swing then tried to feed him.


Perry said he didn’t have enough help with the child and hadn’t been getting enough sleep so when Ayden refused to stop crying, Perry snapped.

“I pretty much went crazy. I can’t do this [expletive] by myself,” 29-year-old Larry Perry told an operator when he called 911 about 10:40 p.m. “I called the police because I know what I did and I deserve whatever.”


911 call captured last breaths


Police say Perry slammed the infant into a bedroom wall.


The little boy’s blood had soaked through red sheets on Perry’s queen-sized bed and a blanket on the living-room couch. Two trails of blood were also streaked across the living-room carpet, a police report said.


According to police, Perry also kicked the child in the torso and stomped on his head so hard that he left behind a shoe-print bruise that spanned from just above the infant’s hairline to his mouth.


Perry told 911 dispatchers that his son didn’t stop crying until Perry “twisted his neck.” Ayden could be heard gasping for breath in the background of the 911 call, the report said.


Ayden was pronounced dead within two hours at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. His cause of death was listed as blunt-force head trauma.


Now, Perry’s life is in the hands of the Public Defender’s Office, which may need to regroup and change its strategy to argue the case now that death is being considered if he is convicted.


Dieter, with the Death Penalty Information Center, said it will be up to Perry’s attorney to make a jury believe Perry acted in the heat of the moment and though he may have been a threat to his son, that does not mean he is a threat to society in general.


“(The jury) will need to hear things they can relate to,” Dieter said. “The defense will need to tell the story of the family and put it in an understandable way. Put it in context and sometimes jurors will at least lessen the punishment.”

If he avoids death, Perry will be sentenced to life in prison if he is found guilty of first-degree murder at trial

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