Andre Hampton confessed to beating his 23-month-old son with a toothbrush, a hair brush and a belt. His son, he told a Charlotte-Mecklenburg homicide detective, wouldn’t eat his soup.
Hampton, 27, is on trial on a murder charge in the November 2008 death of Ellijah Burger. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. If Hampton is convicted of first-degree murder, he’ll be sentenced to life in prison without parole, or death.
In a videotaped confession, Hampton demonstrated on a doll how hard he beat Ellijah with the belt. He recalled how his son cried and tried to fend off the blows.
Homicide detective Bill Ward asked Hampton what made him beat his son for so long.
“I knew he needed to eat,” Hampton replied. “He was going to eat that.”
“No matter how hard I popped him, he still wouldn’t eat,” Hampton told the detective.
During opening statements Tuesday, Mecklenburg Assistant District Attorney Bill Stetzer told jurors that the beating of Ellijah left bruises on top of bruises.
“Ellijah was beaten from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head …,” the prosecutor said. “We’ll ask you to hold this man accountable for the savage beating of a baby.”
Hampton’s attorneys have notified prosecutors of their intent to offer at trial “a defense of diminished capacity.”
In diminished-capacity defenses, defendants may claim that they did not have the mental state or intent to commit the crimes because of emotional distress, physical conditions or other psychological factors. Their mental capacity, for example, may have been diminished by intoxication, trauma or mental illness.
Defense attorney Joe VonKallist admitted during his opening statements Tuesday that Hampton had beaten his son. But VonKallist asked jurors to keep an open mind. He said his client was not “some street thug.”
VonKallist told jurors that Hampton had been beaten and abused by his father while growing up. The childhood abuse, the defense attorney said, goes to his client’s “state of mind.”
“I would ask you to consider what’s inside his mind …,” VonKallist told jurors. “This was his son. In his mind, he was not torturing him.”
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.
“The child had multiple bruises on his body, and the father admitted to hitting him with a belt,” the medical examiner wrote in his autopsy report.
The medical examiner concluded that “abusive beating” was one of the probable causes of Ellijah’s death. The other was multiple blunt-force trauma with injuries to the head and body.
Ellijah’s entire body was covered with bruises, the medical examiner said.
“Bruising is noted to the palms and fingers as well as the back of the hands,” the autopsy report said. “The hands are also swollen, and there are abrasions of all the knuckles, the tips of some of the fingers and thumbs, and broken nail tips. … There is bruising of the bottoms of the feet and the toes.”
During testimony Tuesday, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer and a Charlotte firefighter described arriving at the scene and seeing Ellijah’s battered body.
Firefighter Cindy Zimmerman said Ellijah wasn’t breathing and had no pulse.
CMPD Officer Stephen Arnold recalled an exchange between a medic and Hampton.
“Did you hit the child with a belt?” the medic asked.
“Yes,” Hampton replied.
“Where?” the medic asked.
“All over,” Hampton said.
There’s evidence of violence between Ellijah’s parents – including a restraining order that claims Andre Hampton beat his girlfriend when she was pregnant.
Twice in the year before Ellijah’s death, Hampton was charged with assaulting Ellijah’s mother, Lashinna Burger. The charges were dropped because of insufficient evidence, according to court records.
A May 2008 restraining order mentioned a fight that sent Lashinna Burger to the hospital and Hampton to jail.
Hampton “fractured my arm and abused my stomach. I have papers for proof,” Burger wrote in her request for a restraining order. “He fractured my arms. He throws things at me (pillows), he calls me a (expletive) all the time. He does things to make me want to hit him first, so that he can hit me in return.”
The restraining order said the alleged assault happened while Burger was pregnant. It also accused Hampton of abusing drugs.