“This suggests someone who absolutely knew what he was doing,” Cunningham said.
The details, which emerged during a Prince George’s County juvenile court hearing to determine whether to delay the boy’s case, provide the most thorough look yet into what could have motivated the attack. In essence, Cunningham told Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Herman C. Dawson that the boy was jealous of the toddler his family had been taking care of for months, and she questioned his parents’ ability to control him around his biological siblings.
The boy, shorter than 5 feet and wearing a hooded sweatshirt, said nothing at the hearing. The Washington Post generally does not name juveniles who are charged with crimes.
During the hearing, the boy was flanked by 14 family members and supporters, including a few children. As Dawson ordered that he remain held until his Sept. 4 trial, some family members sobbed and said: “It’s not right. He didn’t do it.” They declined to comment afterward.
Raouf M. Abdullah, the boy’s defense attorney, argued during the hearing that prosecutors’ evidence against his client was scant, and that their case would largely come down to statements the boy made to detectives after he endured several hours of “very offensive interrogation tactics.” He said the toddler’s injuries might have occurred during the boy’s father’s efforts to revive her, and that the boy initially denied involvement in the death.
“The injuries could very well have happened during the CPR,” Abdullah said. “There is no evidence that [the boy] is the person who caused this problem.”
He said the boy carried a 3.1 GPA and worked around his neighborhood picking up trash for $5 a week.
Police have said previously that the boy’s father called 911 the afternoon of July 3 after finding the toddler unconscious. The father had been “summoned home” by his biological daughter, 15, who had been watching the toddler and her two biological siblings — the boy and a 4-year-old girl, police have said.
A preliminary autopsy determined that the toddler died of blunt-force trauma, police have said. Cunningham said in court that investigators were awaiting a final autopsy, and that was why she asked to postpone the trial.
The toddler had been placed with the Fort Washington family in November, after she was removed from her home because of “allegations of physical abuse” related to one of her brothers, according to records provided by Maryland’s Department of Human Resources in response to a Public Information Act request.
Stephany Cunningham, the toddler’s mother, said in a previous interview that the incident was an accident in which someone — not her — put her 3-year-old son in a tub filled with water that scalded him during a bath.
Before the toddler’s placement, the Fort Washington family had successfully completed a “home study” in which foster-care workers reviewed family members’ criminal and medical records, interviewed references and conducted several home visits, according to Department of Human Resources records. The family also successfully completed foster-parent training, according to the records.
Foster-care workers visited the toddler’s foster home — meeting with the child and the family — seven times after she was placed there, most recently on June 21, according to the records. They also met with the family at the Prince George’s social services department’s office four times and accompanied the toddler and her foster parents during a doctor visit when she had a cold, according to the records.
In court on Thursday, prosecutor Cunningham questioned safety at the home. She said that prosecutors thought the boy’s father was “somewhere in the home when Aniyah was found unconscious” — a statement that drew vigorous head shaking from members of the boy’s family and contradicts the initial police account. That, combined with the seriousness of the crime, made prosecutors concerned that “the parents are not able to control the respondent,” Cunningham said.
Abdullah, who disputed the characterization, declined to comment after the hearing. Apparent members of the toddler’s family also declined to comment, referring questions to Cunningham.