Montgomery man gets 20-year term in death of 2-year-old son

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 28, 2010

Two families gathered on either side of a courtroom in Montgomery County on Wednesday, the tension between them rising. Before them was Darryl Powell, 18, about to be sentenced in the beating death of his 2-year-old son, Zjaire Williams.

"That's a good person. That's a good person," a relative of Powell's cried out as a prosecutor argued for a 20-year sentence.

"He's a baby killer," said a relative of the boy's mother. "He's a baby killer."

At one point during the hearing, Circuit Court Judge Louise Scrivener told the families to ratchet things down.

"Both sides of this courtroom are experiencing a great deal of pain," she said from the bench. "There's obviously a lot of emotion here today and has been for many, many months. . . . I believe that all of you loved this child. Of course you did. He's a beautiful child. Don't mar that by anger and violence when you leave the courtroom today."

She then sentenced Powell to 20 years in prison on a charge of child abuse resulting in death, following a plea agreement worked out among lawyers in the case. As part of the plea, an earlier charge of murder was dropped.

"Mr. Powell, you abused your own son and caused his death," Scrivener said.

On Jan. 6, 2009, Powell called Zjaire's mother, Todzja Williams, and asked her to bring the boy to his house in Gaithersburg to spend the night. She and a friend arrived about 2:30 the next morning, and they later told police that Zjaire was in fine health at the time.

"We're never going to know what happened in those early-morning hours," prosecutor Karla Smith said in court. "The only person who knows what happened is the defendant. What we do know is that Zjaire was brutally beaten, that he was beaten so badly that his liver was almost severed in two."

Powell told detectives that after his son arrived, the two watched TV, he gave Zjaire some water and they went to sleep on separate sofas. When he woke up, his son was on the floor, unresponsive. He called 911 and tried CPR, but his son died a short time later at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

Zjaire was found to have hemorrhaging wounds under his scalp and bruises all over his body, prosecutors said. They were prepared to call a medical expert who would have said the child could not have survived long with the abdominal wound.

"Most animals protect their young," Cynthia Brown, a relative of the child's mother, said at the hearing. "You get rats that will protect their young. What manner of ungodly human being would beat an innocent 2-year-old baby?"

Members of Powell's family have said that Zjaire was already injured when he arrived at Powell's home. Several of them cried during the hearing.

Powell did not speak at the hearing. His attorney, Mary Siegfried, said he faced tragedy growing up: A family friend burned his stomach with an iron; he found the body of his half-brother, who had hanged himself from a closet rod; and he had diabetes and "significant mental health issues."

"Four o'clock in the morning, in a calamity of issues that all have come around, in one frustrating moment, Zjaire, unfortunately, was killed," Siegfried said. "And it's something that Darryl tried to erase. He tried. He called 911. He called them and said, 'Help me. Help me. My son's not breathing.' "

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