No one knows what a jury in a criminal case is thinking until it hands over its verdict. Waiting on a verdict "is a horrible feeling," Sedgwick County prosecutor Kim Parker said. "You are anxious. You don't sleep."
But around 1:30 p.m. Friday, Parker heard what she wanted to hear. A Sedgwick County District Court jury found DeWhite Cameron guilty of first-degree murder in the death of 2-year-old Damion Thomas and guilty of aggravated battery for serious injuries to the toddler's identical twin.
Cameron, 28, was the live-in boyfriend of the children's mother when they rented a house at 13th and Erie in September 2008. He was watching the children while their mother worked.
Friday afternoon, lawyers from both sides talked privately with jurors after the verdict was announced.
Parker said she thinks that jurors based their decision partly on three areas:
* Testimony that Cameron was the only adult with the children when they were found with fresh injuries.
* Things that the twins' older brother — the "single eyewitness" available — told people after emergency crews arrived.
* The conclusion that Cameron's actions before and after emergency crews arrived didn't make sense.
Prosecutors said it was a severe case of child abuse.
Prosecutor Shannon Wilson, asked to speak about the horrible nature of the crimes, put it this way: Damion and his twin were toddlers — innocent. They were supposed to be loved and protected in their home. Instead, they suffered prolonged and painful abuse before emergency crews rushed them to a hospital after it was reported that Damion was not breathing, possibly from a bathtub drowning.
Experts testified this week that the twins had multiple injuries: some fresh, others healing and some scarred-over.
Prosecutors will seek consecutive sentences for Cameron when he is sentenced July 8, said Parker, the chief deputy district attorney.
"Once again," Parker said, speaking of the jury's decision, "the community stood up for the protection of children."
Defense attorney Lee McMaster said, "We, of course, are disappointed."
McMaster said Cameron will appeal the verdict.
Right after District Judge Greg Waller read the verdict, Cameron's mother gasped, said "No," and sobbed as a relative tried to console her. Cameron's relatives quickly left the courtroom.
Testimony in the trial ended Thursday. Jurors deliberated for about two hours Thursday and about three hours Friday.
Damion died from what the coroner described as multiple blunt-force injuries.
Friday morning, the jury had some testimony read back to them. That testimony dealt with the nature of Damion's injuries, the timing of the injuries and things that Damion's older brother said to neighbors and emergency or medical personnel the day Damion was found fatally injured.
According to the testimony, the older brother, who was almost 4 when Damion was rushed to the hospital, told a fire lieutenant that day: "Daddy (Cameron) got mad." He told one neighbor: "My daddy did it." He told a second neighbor: "My daddy hurt my brother. He make my brother not breathe." And he told a nursing student, when she asked if Cameron spanked his brothers: "No, he whupped them."
On the witness stand earlier this week, the older brother, now 5, said, "God did it."
McMaster, the defense attorney, strongly suggested to jurors that the boys' mother, Shaneekwa Saunders, could be responsible. She has pleaded guilty to aggravated child endangerment and was put on probation. Both sides declined to bring her to the witness stand this week.