Even at the tender age of 3, Evan Brewer refused to back down from weeks of torture and humiliation doled out by his mother and her boyfriend.
Ultimately, it killed him.
That’s what prosecutors told jurors Tuesday afternoon as the trial got underway for the boy’s suspected killer, Stephen Bodine, who is charged with first-degree murder, child abuse, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated child endangerment in connection with Evan’s death.
“Evan Brewer wouldn’t break. Mom broke. But Evan was strong willed,” Sedgwick County Deputy District Attorney Justin Edwards told jurors during his opening statements late Tuesday afternoon.
“He wouldn’t bend to the rules of the house and ultimately he died because of that.”
Prosecutors this week plan to convince jurors that Bodine was continuing a pattern of abusing children and dominating his girlfriends when he beat, chastised and terrified Evan in the months before he hauled the boy into a bathroom one day and came back out with his body in his arms.
“Stephen Bodine was the king of his domain. Wherever he lived, whoever was with him he was in charge, it was his rules that everyone had to live by,” including saying “Good morning, daddy” before Evan was allowed a trip to the bathroom after getting out of bed, Edwards said in court.
“There are punishments for breaking those rules.”
Bodine, 41, is accused of torturing Evan for at least two months with the help of the boy’s mother, Miranda Miller, before murdering him on or around May 19, 2017, and encasing the body in concrete to conceal the death.
Because Evan’s body was decomposing when it was removed from its concrete tomb, an autopsy couldn’t determine exactly how he died — a point Bodine’s attorney is expected to seize on in court to help defend his client.
Evan’s death has drawn attention not only because it involves the disturbing abuse of a child but also because it’s raised questions about the effectiveness of Kansas’ child protection system, which received at least eight reports of Evan’s abuse.
It’s also drawn attention because the boy was the grandson of former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.
At a court hearing in April, Miller testified that leading up to Evan’s death he’d been ill for three days — possibly from being forced to swallow large amounts of salt for angering Bodine — and was refusing food and drink.
When the boy gagged on doughnuts and juice his mother force fed him and didn’t eat quickly enough, the couple beat him. They then sent him to stand in a corner for hours with his hands behind his back until he collapsed.
When Evan refused to get up, Bodine slapped him and hauled him into the bathroom to stop his screams, Miller testified in April.
The next time she saw Evan, he was lying unresponsive in Bodine’s arms. The boy’s head was wet and Bodine was telling her to perform CPR.
Evan never recovered.
The day was the culmination of abuse of Evan that included withheld meals, beatings for not greeting Bodine in the right tone, being cursed at and being smacked for not lying still in bed. The boy was so scared of Bodine he wouldn’t pass by him to go use the bathroom, resulting in potty training accidents that reportedly angered Bodine further.
And in at least one case, Evan was stripped naked and made to stand naked in the basement of his home with a dog collar tightened around his neck. Jurors are expected to see evidence of that incident as well as others because some of Evan’s abuse was caught on film by a motion-activated video surveillance system Bodine and Miller set up in the home they rented at 2037 S. Vine in Wichita.
For months no one knew Evan had died. The last time he was seen by his biological father, who obtained custody of him after he became concerned the boy was being abused, was in March 2017 after the father called 911 asking for police to check on his son’s welfare.
Then on Sept. 2, after Miller and Bodine were arrested, the landlord of the Vine Street house discovered a giant concrete and wood structure on its enclosed back porch.
When investigators cracked the block open, they found Evan’s body inside.
Bodine’s defense attorney, Casey Cotton, in his opening statements called Bodine’s relationship with Evan’s mother complex. He called Bodine “her protector” and said that Bodine helped her take care of Evan because “she was having difficulty taking care” of him for health reasons.
He also helped her conceal the boy’s death, Cotton told jurors.
“Evidence will show that what Mr. Bodine did was help Miranda Miller hide the body after Evan passed away,” Cotton said in court, adding that jurors wouldn’t be hearing the truth about how Evan died from his mother — only her account.
Miller in her testimony in April admitted to participating in Evan’s abuse but said she did so to appease Bodine and stop her own beatings. She’s also charged with her son’s abuse and death but worked out a plea deal with prosecutors that will put her away for up to 27 1/2 years in exchange for testifying against Bodine.
She’s expected to take the witness stand at some point during his trial.
Jurors are also expected to hear testimony from police officers who investigated Evan’s whereabouts and death, people who saw signs of Evan’s abuse and from Bodine’s own daughter, who says she was also abused by Bodine when she was a young girl. On Wednesday, they’ll continue hearing testimony from Evan’s biological father, Carlo Brewer, about his attempts to gain custody of his son.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m.