CLEVELAND — Aniya Day-Garrett was subjected to a 'long and prolonged suffering' before she died in March 2018, prosecutors said Thursday in opening statements in the murder trial of Aniya’s mother, Sierra Day, and her mother’s boyfriend, Deonte Lewis.
In the first batch of witnesses called to testify, Euclid firefighters and paramedics testified that when they found Aniya in her mother’s apartment, the four-year-old girl was cold and stiff, in addition to being severely malnourished.
Lewis and Day both face aggravated murder charges, in addition to a litany of other offenses. They two are being tried together.
In her opening statements, Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Anna Faraglia said the evidence will show Aniya became withdrawn and was hardly seen by anyone in the days and weeks leading up to her death on March 11, 2018. Faraglia told the jury that the evidence will show Aniya was severely neglected and malnourished.
“It was a long and prolonged death,” Faraglia said. “And the medical examiner will tell you that as a result of blunt force trauma, she suffered a stroke… We will prove that both of these individuals killed this child.”
In his opening statement, Tom Shaughnessy, the attorney representing Sierra Day, implored the jury to avoid jumping to conclusions.
“You will see photographs and things that we talked about [Wednesday]. It may be difficult to not reach a conclusion or close your mind when you see some of these things,” Shaughnessy said.
Deonte Lewis’ attorney, Nicole Longino, was direct and to-the-point in her opening statement. She told the jury that her client had not moved in with Day and was in and out of the apartment in the week leading up to Aniya’s death. Longino further told the jury that Day was primarily responsible for taking care of the girl.
“Evidence will show that he had nothing to do with her death. He never abused her and he had no hand in her malnourishment,” Longino said.
Longino also said her client tried to reckon with Day regarding the woman’s parenting style but Day insisted that she could parent her child the way she sees fit.
Jurors also heard testimony from the squad of firefighters, who are also paramedics, who were the first to arrive at the Euclid apartment Aniya shared with her mother. They told the jury that Aniya was severely emaciated and her body was cold and stiff when they first arrived. The little girl also had a severe bruise to one of her eyes. The swelling was so severe that her eye was swollen shut.
Aniya’s lifeless body was found face-up underneath an air conditioning unit located underneath window in the apartment. Prosecutors told the jury in their opening statements that the medical examiner will testify that Aniya weighed less than 30 pounds when she died.
When firefighters arrived, they made the quick decision to take the girl downstairs to the ambulance, which was parked outside. Once they started to attempt to resuscitate her they reported finding numerous cuts, abrasions and bruises in various stages of healing all over her body. The firefighters that testified Thursday told the jury that they believed Aniya was already dead by the time they arrived.
“[Aniya was] very skinny. I could see all of her bones. She looked very malnourished,” said Euclid firefighter Nathan Lapugh. “She was cold, stiff. At the time we made the decision to keep working (to resuscitate her) because its a kid.”
Prosecutors also called a police dispatcher to the witness stand and played the 911 call that Lewis placed on March 11, 2018. On direct examination, the dispatcher told the jury that Lewis was not ‘excited or panicked as most people are when calling about an unresponsive child. Firefighters also testified that only after they loudly knocked several times did Lewis and Day open the apartment door. Another firefighter later testified that Day was being evasive when he began asking her questions about Aniya’s injuries.
Aniya’s death prompted months of discontent, protests and, eventually, reform at the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services. A state review of CCDCFS’ handling of Aniya’s case ultimately found case workers and social workers failed to follow standard protocols, failed to make sufficient face-to-face contact with Aniya and failed to follow up on at least two years’ worth of documented injuries on Aniya’s body. Those injuries were documented by daycare workers at Harbor Crest Childcare Academy, which looked after Aniya for several years.
According to the state’s report, in February 2017, CCDCFS officials became aware that Aniya’s daycare, Harbor Crest, had documented injuries on Aniya’s body on multiple occasions. However, the state review found that investigation was closed without county social workers ever obtaining copies of those reports. The reports documenting Aniya’s injuries, which dated back to 2015, weren’t obtained by CCDCFS case workers until May 2017 when a subsequent allegation of abuse surfaced, according to the state’s review. In the May 2017 investigation, a county social worker was dispatched to the hospital in reference to additional injuries observed on Aniya’s body. According to a Euclid police report, the daycare manager called police after she noticed that Aniya had a head injury and was bleeding from her ear. The injuries were consistent with abuse, the daycare manager believed.
The county social worker was dispatched to the hospital where Aniya was taken. The state review found the social worker noted that the emergency room doctor was reportedly unable to determine whether Aniya’s injuries were caused by abuse. However, the state review found that the hospital’s discharge summary, which was signed by the same doctor, clearly stated that Aniya’s injuries were consistent with abuse.
In the fallout of Aniya’s death, County Executive Armond Budish appointed an independent panel of child welfare experts to review CCDCFS’ handling of Aniya’s case. The panel recommended a series of changes that the agency make. Among the changes were the hiring of a dozen more social workers, as well as nearly a dozen former or retired law enforcement officers who would help with investigations. Additionally, a DCFS advisory board would be created which would provide oversight.
State regulators also took administrative action against Harbor Crest and another daycare, Get Read Set Grow Childcare Center, failed to follow the state’s mandatory reporting laws. State law requires people holding certain professions, including daycare workers, to notify authorities if they reasonably suspect child abuse or neglect is happening.