Parents sent to prison in 2015 Fayetteville slaying, sex assault of 3-year-old daughter
Cumberland County, NC – A Fayetteville mother and father were sent to prison Monday for the 2015 sexual abuse and death of their malnourished 3-year-old daughter.
After a week of testimony and just over four hours of deliberation, a Cumberland County jury found Jamarkus Smith, 31, guilty of first-degree murder, taking indecent liberties with a child, intentional child abuse inflicting serious injury, felonious child abuse and two counts of sex offense with a child by an adult in the death of his daughter, Jourdin A’Legacy Smith.
Jourdin’s mother and Smith’s wife, Octavia Bennett-Smith, 32, a former Fort Bragg Army sergeant, pleaded guilty in December 2019.
Testimony in Smith’s trial began July 19, with closing arguments on Friday.
Following the jury verdict, Smith professed his innocence when he addressed the court before sentencing.
“I showed them I was innocent,” he said. “They know I’m innocent, and you know I’m innocent. Everybody here knows. How is that right? At what point is the legal system about justice?”
No statements were made on behalf of Jourdin before Judge Claire Hill sentenced Smith to life imprisonment for the murder and a combined 25 to 35 years for the other charges. He will also be required to register as a sex offender for life.
Smith’s attorney, Kris Poppe, said his client plans to appeal the verdict.
As Smith was escorted from the courtroom Monday, he turned to two women in the gallery who appeared to be there on his behalf and said, “I didn’t do it.”
“I know you didn’t baby,” one of the women said. “He didn’t do that. I don’t care what nobody says. He didn’t do it.”
According to the child’s autopsy report, the cause of death was pneumonia in the setting of malnutrition, neglect and sexual abuse. She weighed just 28 pounds at the time of her death, and her body and genitals were riddled with lacerations and contusions, the report said.
Bennett-Smith’s sentencing came some 30 minutes after her husband’s.
Her defense attorney, Antonio Gerald, called Jourdin’s death a tragedy.
Gerald said that Bennett-Smith accepted responsibility for her role in Jourdin’s death and “agreed to testify and assist in any way to help bring justice for Jourdin.”
Bennett-Smith did not speak during the hearing but cried as she was sentenced to a minimum term 10 years, five months, and a maximum of 13 years, six months for the second-degree murder charge.
The judge declined Gerald’s request for a consolidated sentence and instead stacked the sentence for the other charges.
For the child abuse and sexual assault charges, she received a consecutive minimum sentence of four years, four months, and a maximum of more than 10 years in prison. She will be required to register as a sex offender for 30 years after release.
The judge also recommended a psychological evaluation for Bennett-Smith.
Gerald said that the court heard during her testimony at Smith’s trial that she was also a victim of assault as a child.
“These are not excuses for her actions of what she has pled guilty to, but only to shed some light as to what may have led her to be in this courtroom today,” he said.
Behind the motto of ‘make good boys better,’ a darker side of New Hampshire’s Camp Tecumseh
Since 1903, Camp Tecumseh has welcomed young male campers to New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee for summers of sports and outdoor adventures to “make good boys better.”
But at least two campers who summered there had a very different experience of life at the camp. They say that at different times between 1999 and 2013 they were sexually abused by Matthew J. Scavitto, 37, a former camper and counselor who has since been convicted of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania.
Police in the small, lakeside town of Moultonborough, N.H., are now investigating the accusations, which have cast a pall over the 350-acre camp that draws many boys from the Philadelphia area and boasts of alumni including Prince Albert II of Monaco, the son of actress Grace Kelly; and the late Bert Bell, the first NFL commissioner.
One former camper who said he was molested at the camp by Scavitto during the early 2000s said life at Tecumseh required navigating a maze of demeaning and embarrassing practices.
“It was ‘Lord of the Flies,’ ” said Will Addis, 30, referring to the novel about boys who descend into chaos after being stranded on an uninhabited island. “It has a pervasive culture of toxic masculinity and abusive practices.”
Addis, of Nantucket, sued Camp Tecumseh last fall in New Hampshire, alleging that Scavitto sexually assaulted him repeatedly from 2001 and 2003.
Camp life, Addis alleged, celebrated games that sometimes took on sexual overtones and primitive accommodations like a shared shower area without curtains between campers and “The Widdow,” a bathroom with no privacy doors.
Campers who chafed at Tecumseh’s rituals were vulnerable to being hazed or bullied, Addis said, and the camp also permitted nude swimming, pranking others by twisting nipples, and having campers apply IcyHot to their testicles in a Mercy-style game.
Scavitto, of West Chester, Pa., declined to comment. He has not been charged in the Tecumseh matter, but, in a separate case, pleaded guilty in 2015 to charges of institutional sexual assault and corruption of minors and was sentenced to 11 1/2 months to 1 year and 11 months in prison, records show.
Scavitto was prosecuted after two students at The Phelps School in suburban Philadelphia, accused him of sexually abusing them while he worked there as a teacher, coach, and dorm supervisor, police said.
One of the Phelps students also attended Camp Tecumseh and told investigators that Scavitto sexually abused him at the camp in 2013, a police report said.
Scavitto was at the camp from 1994 to 2014, according to Camp Tecumseh, which cut ties with him after his Pennsylvania arrest in June 2015.
As campers returned Saturday to Camp Tecumseh, Addis said he wants to share his story publicly and highlight aspects of camp culture that he believes facilitated Scavitto’s abuse of boys.
The state of the police investigation is unclear. Moultonborough police Sergeant Jody Baker said the investigation is open and she was not “in a position to comment.”
Addis and the camp said they reached an out-of-court settlement earlier this year.
Photos and videos posted on a camp alumni website and YouTube show some of the practices and old-school, rough-edged play that concern Addis.
One photo of a game called “Buck Buck” shows a chain of kneeling campers clutching the waist of the person in front of them as an adult man straddles the back of one participant. One set of players tries to build a pile as large as possible on top of a second group of players who are linked together.
The camp said it stopped sanctioning nude swimming in the early 1990s and built a dividing wall in the bathroom in the early 2000s. The bathroom and showers were renovated this year to enclose toilets and install curtains around each shower.
The camp didn’t directly address specific games or pranks, but said it has “recognized that what once may have been considered adolescent humor or physical pranks of innocent intent have no place at Camp.”
“While bullying and hazing have never been permitted or tolerated, we have recognized that even well-intended or seemingly innocent jokes and pranks were no longer appropriate or supportive of Camp’s values and mission,” the camp wrote in response to questions from the Globe. “These changes were part of our concerted effort to create an environment where minors feel safe and are protected by clear boundaries, guidelines, and expectations and multiple levels of oversight.”
The camp said it created a new senior-level position, director of camper safety and wellness, to oversee the protection of minors, and retained outside experts to train staff. Tuition for this summer’s seven-week session is $7,700, and scholarships are available from the nonprofit camp.
A 3 1/2 page camp statement said it is “committed to an environment where minors and adults feel empowered to report incidents and have a clear understanding of what to look for and how to prevent and stop abuse.”
“Nothing that we do now can undo the harm caused to our former campers, both those who were directly impacted, as well as the many other campers, counselors, and senior leaders whose sense of safety and security were shaken by these events. We are deeply sorry to the former campers who were abused by Scavitto, and so very grateful for their courage in speaking up and standing strong.”
On Thursday, the camp issued a letter informing the Tecumseh community that the Globe was preparing a story about Addis and described its efforts to address his concerns.
Being close to Scavitto, Addis said, shielded him from hazing and bullying.
In the last year, Addis said, he learned that in 2003 a counselor came upon him and Scavitto in bed together in their cabin, and reported it to his father, also a camp employee. The counselor and his father in turn, Addis said, approached the camp director.
“Nothing happened,” Addis said. “This was incredibly public. People knew what was going on but they didn’t do anything.”
Reached by the Globe, the former counselor said he couldn’t speak and hung up. His father didn’t respond to e-mails.
Camp Tecumseh said that an internal investigation launched after Scavitto’s Pennsylvania arrest revealed that the counselor and his father approached the camp director during the early 2000s with a “concern about boundaries, rather than about abuse.” The camp said it shared the information with New Hampshire police after learning about it in 2015.
James Talbot, the camp director in 2003, said he has no recollection of being approached.
“Nor did I have any other information that any of this behavior took place while I was camp director,” Talbot wrote in an e-mail. “Had I known, I would have put an immediate stop to it and notified the authorities.”
Addis’s lawyer, Eric MacLeish, said the camp missed an opportunity to stop Scavitto years before he was accused of molesting boys in Pennsylvania.
“By the time Will was molested, the mandatory abuse reporting laws had been in effect in New Hampshire for decades,” said MacLeish, a New Hampshire attorney who has represented many child sex abuse victims. “It is impossible to understand why the Camp failed to investigate, report, or fire Scavitto when it learned that he was in bed at 10: 30 at night with a [10-]year-old child.”
After Scavitto’s 2015 arrest, the camp said it hired the law firm Cozen O’Connor to investigate, contacted the families of current and former campers, alerted police and child protective services in New Hampshire, and added staff to ensure individual campers are never alone with a counselor.
It was unclear whether state officials in New Hampshire were informed about the alleged abuse. A spokesman for the state’s child welfare division said state and federal laws require it to protect the privacy of any individuals involved in the agency.
Responding to a records request, the state’s health and human services agency produced one document from Scavitto’s tenure as a counselor, a 2014 report that noted beds were too close together in the cabin visited by the inspector. A department spokesman said other files were purged after five years, and that the agency had only been authorized in 2020 to oversee camps.
At Tecumseh in 2001, Addis was assigned to a cabin of 18 campers, where Scavitto had arranged for him to sleep next to him, Addis recalled. At night and during the daytime rest period, Addis said Scavitto sexually assaulted him.
Around camp, Addis said Scavitto held his hand, played with his hair, and put his arm around him.
“He told me he loved me,” Addis said. “He told me not tell anybody this is our little secret.”
He added: “I almost felt that I had better treatment than any other camper and some counselors. I felt like I had such privilege at that camp.”
Last March, Addis said, the closing of the economy due to the coronavirus pandemic set off a change in him. He said childhood memories of Camp Tecumseh and Scavitto filled his mind and he took action.
Up until then, Addis said, he feared what happened to him at camp.
“I thought I would take this to the grave,” he said.
Cecil County man charged with Child Abuse; accused of shaking baby
April 02, 2020
CECIL COUNTY, MD – A man is facing felony child abuse charges after he allegedly shook a 5-month-old baby in his Cecil County household, causing significant injury to the infant’s brain, according to charging documents.
Investigators identified the suspect as 57-year-old Paul Frederick Herd Sr., who remained in the Cecil County Detention Center without bond on Thursday, two days after his bail review hearing, court records show.
Herd is charged with first-degree child abuse resulting in severe physical injury, first-degree assault and second-degree custodial child abuse – all of which are felonies – in addition to three misdemeanor offenses, according to Cecil County District Court records.
“At this time, it is impossible to know what long term effects will be; however, portions of the brain were deprived oxygen due to the hemorrhaging,” Cecil County Sheriff’s Office Det. Chase Arminger, lead investigator, outlines in his written statement of probable cause filed on Tuesday.
The investigation started on March 19, when Arminger responded to Nemours A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, Del., after physicians there alerted that they were treating a 5-month-old baby for “injuries consistent with physical abuse,” police said.
Doctors reported that the infant was “actively seizing with no medical explanation,” that a CAT scan revealed the infant was suffering from “acute and chronic” bleeding inside the head; and that a retinal scan indicated “significant (bleeding) in both eyes,” police added.
“The ruptured blood vessels in the retinal area were too numerous to count. Medical professionals advised (that) the injuries present were inconsistent with the explanation given at the time the infant was presented to the medical staff. Det. Arminger was advised that the mechanism of injury was physical abuse consistent with shaking, unless or until, proven otherwise,” according to court records.
That prompted Arminger to conduct separate interviews with five other people who were living in the house with the baby – the infant’s mother, the mother’s boyfriend and the mothers’s two other children, who are elementary-school aged, police reported.
The mother told Arminger that the baby and her two other children had been left in the sole care of Herd on March 14 and again on March 17, police said. The mother also told the investigator that she noticed a change in the baby’s behavior on March 16, police added.
“The infant was refusing (its) bottle, sleeping off and on, and being abnormally fussy. Through March 16 through March 18, the infant’s condition continued to deteriorate, prompting the mother to schedule an appointment with a pediatrician,” court records show.
On the morning of March 19, however, the baby started seizing and, after consulting the pediatrician on the phone, the mother called 911 — resulting in an ambulance crew driving the infant to A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital, police reported.
The mother’s boyfriend, during his separate interview, gave a similar account of when Herd was alone with the baby and the other two children in the house, police said. He, too, also told Arminger that the baby had been moody and had a diminished appetite, police added.
In addition, according to court records, the mother’s boyfriend reported that he noticed a small bruise on the baby’s face on the night of March 17 and that he was unsure of the cause.
The mother’s boyfriend also noted Herd had told him that, on March 14, one of the elementary-aged children had tripped over the baby while the infant was on the floor — an incident that occurred while all three children were in Herd’s sole care, court records show.
During their separate interviews, the elementary-aged children gave similar accounts of Herd’s alleged reaction after the tripping incident took place, police said.
The older of the two children described Herd as “mad” at the sibling who had tripped over the baby, police added.
That older child told Arminger that Herd then picked up the infant and “shook her up and down saying, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay’,” court records allege.
The younger of the two elementary-aged children told the investigator that Herd picked up the baby and “moved (the infant) up and down” while saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay.”
During his interview, Herd told investigators that the tripping incident occurred on March 17, not March 14, and that the baby was not injured and was “doing fine” and “taking bottles normally,” police reported.
When asked about the events of the March 13-15 weekend, according to court records, investigators noticed a “significant behavior change” in Herd. Investigators observed Herd “look away and appear withdrawn while giving answers to specific questions,” police reported.
Herd denied watching the baby and the two older children over the March 13-15 weekend, until detectives shared details given during other interviews, police said. At that point, police added, Herd “admitted to watching the children, but only for 30 minutes.”
When asked to detail what occurred right before and directly after the baby’s mother called 911 on morning of March 19, Herd told investigators that the infant was “barely conscious,” and that he attempted to help the baby while waiting for the ambulance, police reported.
“I (Herd) kept holding (the baby’s hands) and keeping (the baby) alert, because I know when you have a concussion, you don’t go to sleep,” according to court records, which further allege, “(Herd) would have had no knowledge the infant had a head injury at the time 911 was contacted unless there was prior knowledge of the mechanism of injury.”
Arminger arrested Herd on Tuesday, court records show.
Daycare worker arrested, charged with
2 counts of aggravated Child Abuse
BRANDON, FL – A daycare worker in Brandon was arrested on Friday for two counts of aggravated child abuse, officials say.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office say on Dec. 18, the parents of an infant took their child to the pediatrician when the baby turned pale in color and began throwing up. The baby spent the say attending Shepherd Day Care at 208 Terrace Drive in Brandon.
The infant was in the sole care and custody of 20-year-old Sarah Loria at the daycare.
The pediatrician initially diagnosed the baby with a stomach virus.
On Dec. 20, when Loria was caring for the baby, the infant became unresponsive. Loria then contacted the parent’s who transported the baby to a local hosital.
After an evaluation, it was confirmed that the infant suffered from shaken baby syndrome from both incidents.
On Friday, detectives with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office located and arrested Loria for two counts of aggravated child abuse.
She was transported to the Orient Road Jail without incident.