CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Prosecution witnesses testified Monday that 23-month-old Ellijah Burger suffered numerous injuries when he was beaten to death by his father in November 2008.
A Mecklenburg jury last week convicted Andre Hampton of first-degree murder in Ellijah’s death. The jurors now must decide if Hampton should be sentenced to death, or life in prison without parole.
Prosecutors on Monday were trying to show that Ellijah’s murder was especially heinous, atrocious and cruel.
Veteran Homicide Det. Garry McFadden, testifying about the injuries Ellijah had suffered, told jurors it was unlike anything else he ever had seen.
McFadden said he had investigated more than 800 homicides during his 21 years as a homicide investigator. He described injuries that Ellijah had sustained all over his body, including his knuckles and the bottoms of his feet.
“There were too many for me to count,” he told the jurors.
Outside the presence of the jury, McFadden testified, “It is the worst I’ve ever seen.”
McFadden told jurors he had gone to the hospital where Ellijah had been taken. He said he later contacted another homicide detective to tell him about the injuries and said he had a difficult time trying to describe what he had seen. “The injuries were so multiple, it was hard to convey what I was seeing,” McFadden said.
Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Owens was asked about the level of pain and suffering that Ellijah went through while being beaten to death. Owens told jurors because of the extensive number of injuries Ellijah had suffered, “A tremendous amount of pain and suffering.”
Owens told the jurors he has performed about 3,000 autopsies -- a little more than 200 of them on children. Owens then compared the injuries Ellijah had suffered to those of the other children he had performed autopsies on. “The number of injuries far exceeds the number I’ve seen on the other children,” Owens told jurors. “If I added up all the injuries on the other children, I wouldn’t have as many as were on Ellijah.”
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated nearly five hours over two days before reaching their verdicts last week – guilty of first-degree murder and felony child abuse. Hampton, 27, did not show any emotion when the verdicts were announced. He hung his head when the jurors were individually polled on the verdicts.
April Gadson, Hampton’s mother, wept at hearing the guilty verdicts. Outside the courtroom a few minutes later, she embraced her sobbing daughter.
The jurors found Hampton guilty of first-degree murder on two theories. One was murder by torture. The other was under the felony murder rule, where a killing is committed during the commission of a felony and with the use of a deadly weapon. Ellijah was killed during felony child abuse.
It’s rare that prosecutors seek the death penalty against parents who kill their children.
Hampton confessed during a videotaped interview to beating Ellijah with a toothbrush, a hairbrush and a belt. His son, he told the homicide detective, wouldn’t eat his soup.
Ellijah was beaten inside a motel room at a complex then called AARCS Residence Suites on South Tryon Street, where his family had been living.
Andre Hampton told jurors last Monday that he loved his son and didn’t intend to kill him. His son’s birth, he said, was “like a dream come true.”
“I was proud of him,” he said. “He was a good kid. Every day I loved him even more.”
Bunting showed the jury portions of Hampton’s confession. After Hampton was seen demonstrating how he struck Ellijah’s fingers with a toothbrush, Bunting asked jurors: “Can you see the love he had for his son in that video?”
Bunting also showed jurors the autopsy photos of Ellijah’s battered body. “There’s barely a spot on this child that is not abraded, bruised or broken ... from the top of his head to the very bottom of his feet,” the prosecutor told jurors.
“This child died from an abusive beating … all because he wouldn’t eat his soup.”