An attorney for Antonio Cathey, charged with murder in the 2013 killing of a 17-month-old Charlotte girl, took much of Monday trying to persuade the jury to consider another suspect – the toddler’s mother.
Kyiemani Brewer died four years ago from massive internal injuries, which a medical examiner said were caused by a powerful blow or blows to her chest.
Cathey, according to Jade Butler, the little girl’s mother and Cathey’s former girlfriend, was the last adult to be with Kyiemani before she was found unresponsive on her mother’s bed. If convicted, the 24-year-old faces life in prison without parole.
With Jade Butler on the witness stand for the second day, defense attorney Norman Butler, no relation to the mother, attempted to portray his client’s accuser as an unfit mother who used illegal drugs almost daily, lied to police about events surrounding Kyiemani’s death, and may have been responsible for at least some of the child’s injuries.
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“When (police) asked you if Antonio Cathey had ever hit your child, what did you tell them? You told them, ‘He would never do that.’ You remember?” Butler said to the mother. “The fact is you didn’t know then and you don’t know now what happened.”
Jade Butler replied: “Well, I know I didn’t do anything, and she wasn’t with me, so, hmmm, elimination.”
The defense attorney shot back: “It’s not about elimination when you don’t know what happened.”
Initially, police charged both Jade Butler and Cathey with murder and felony child abuse in connection with the child’s death. Those charges have since been dropped against Butler, who is now accused of being an accessory to murder and child abuse. Prosecutors have said repeatedly during the trial that the reduced charges are not part of any plea deal Jade Butler has received in return for her testimony.
Norman Butler, however, attacked the credibility of the prosecution’s key witness in questioning that went on for almost a hour and a half.
Don’t you have a previous criminal history? the defense attorney asked . Yes, the 26-year-old mother said – a misdemeanor larceny charge from early in 2013. “That’s stealing isn’t it?” Norman Butler replied.
Didn’t you regularly smoke marijuana with your next-door neighbor? Yes, Jade Butler said.
“You smoked it because you liked it, didn’t you?” the attorney continued. “It made you high, didn’t it? It made you feel good.”
Yes, Jade Butler acknowledged, though she insisted that she had not used the drug on the day of her daughter’s death.
The mother drew a line when the defense attorney tried to asked whether it was she, not Cathey, who caused the injuries that eventually killed her daughter. Jade Butler admitted that she had “popped” Kyiemani from time to time for disciplining purposes but had never struck the little girl with any force.
Norman Butler did not let up. If Jade Butler was the loving and observant mother she wanted authorities to believe her to be, how was it she did not know about her daughter’s earlier injuries – including a skull fracture and the twice-broken rib – that were discovered during her autopsy?
The mother said those injuries weren’t visible, and that she had only learned of them from the medical reports or talking with her family.
“Are you sure, you’re absolutely positive? Yes ma’am, you can remember now,” Norman Butler said sarcastically during another exchange. “’Cause it sounds better, doesn’t it? It sounds better when you can try to explain it all away. … You’d tell them anything to get yourself out of trouble, didn’t you?”
Jade Butler did not look at the defense attorney when she gave her answer: “No, it sounds better because I’m telling the truth.”
Kyiemani died the night of Oct. 18, 2013, in an emergency room. Prosecutors say the child was found unresponsive at Little Rock Apartments on West Boulevard after Cathey took the child back to the apartment he shared with Kyiemani’s mother to get her something to eat.
Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Kristen Northrup, Jade Butler told jurors about her experiences in the emergency room that night, and how she had erupted in anger and horror when the doctors and nurses stopped trying to revive Kyiemani. When Northrup showed her an autopsy photo of her daughter’s face Monday morning, Jade Butler doubled over on the witness stand and started to sob and gag – so much so that Superior Court Judge Carla Archie ordered a recess.
When it was the defense’s turn to question her, however, Jade Butler turned icily calm. Even the defense’s most provocative questions drew clipped, measured responses.
Norman Butler, a veteran Mecklenburg defense attorney, bore in over conflicting statements Jade Butler gave to police about the events surrounding her daughter’s death. In the first, she told detectives at the hospital that she, Cathey and Kyiemani had been together all evening. Two days later, after her arrest, she told jurors she “finally came out and told the truth” that Cathey had been alone with the little girl for a period of time before she was found near death.
Under defense questioning, Jade Butler said she and her boyfriend, who started dating in July 2013, had an understanding about Kyiemani: Cathey would not discipline her, bathe her or change her diaper.
“You also (told detectives) that you never saw Mr. Cathey (hit) your daughter, didn’t you? Because you had an understanding, didn’t you?” Norman Butler said.
“I thought we had an understanding,” the mother replied, again looking away.
“And when they asked … if you trusted him, you told them you did. Didn’t you tell them that,” Norman Butler asked.
“I told them I did trust him,” she said, emphasizing the past tense.