A Mecklenburg jury on Wednesday convicted Andre Hampton of murder for beating his 23-month-old son to death in November 2008.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated nearly five hours over two days before reaching their verdicts – guilty of first-degree murder and felony child abuse.
The jurors must now decide if Hampton, 27, should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole for killing Ellijah Burger. The trial will resume on Monday.
Hampton 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.
Gadson would not talk to reporters as she left the courthouse. The prosecutors and the defense lawyers also wouldn’t comment.
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.
Mecklenburg Assistant District Attorney Bill Bunting on Tuesday began his closing arguments by slamming the prosecution table with the belt used to beat Ellijah.
“Only Ellijah understands the hell and torture he went through that day,” Bunting told the jurors.
Hampton knew exactly what he was doing, the prosecutor said. “He wasn’t mad,” Bunting said. “He didn’t lose control. This child was going to do what he said.
“He just kept hitting him over and over and over again until Ellijah couldn’t resist 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.
Andre Hampton told jurors on 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.”
Turning to the jurors, Bunting said: “You tell him what he did was abuse. You tell him what he did was inhumane. You tell him what he did was torture. You tell him what he did was murder.”
Defense attorney Norman Butler told jurors during his closing arguments that Hampton never intended to kill Ellijah and there is no proof that he did.
Butler asked what motive Hampton would have had to kill his son. “There is none,” he said.
The defense attorney also asked why Hampton didn’t stop beating the child. “He doesn’t know. Nobody knows,” he told the jurors.
Butler said Hampton was trying to discipline and punish his son but had done it in “an inappropriate way.”
The defense attorney reminded jurors that Hampton had been beaten while growing up. “He’s not a monster,” he said.
“He did not set out to torture this child,” Butler said. “He thought he was doing the right thing. He thought he could help the child by making him eat.”
But Butler said Hampton lost control while beating Ellijah.
“Something got ahold of him,” he told jurors. “He doesn’t know why ... I don’t know why.”