There were no adults around when 17-month-old Kelci Lewis of Birmingham, Ala., started to cry, police say. So there were no adults around when an 8-year-old who had been left in charge of Kelci allegedly began to beat the baby girl.
Kelci was discovered in her crib the following morning, dead from blunt-force trauma to the head and internal injuries, AL.com reported. Her mother, according to police, was at a nightclub when the beating occurred.
After what Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper called “one of the most heartbreaking investigations” of his career, the 8-year-old boy was charged with murder Tuesday, a month after the toddler’s death. Her mother, 26-year-old Katerra Lewis, was charged with manslaughter and released on a $15,000 bond.
Vigil held for 1-year-old Kelci Lewis https://t.co/yJOfLyATvG— WIAT 42 (@WIAT42) October 21, 2015
“There are just too many deep rooted issues in this horrific crime. It’s extremely troubling from so many different angles and there are no law enforcement answers to prevent it,” Roper told AL.com Tuesday. “We’ve been concerned about the kids and the future effect on their lives. The bottom line is an innocent young baby lost her life and that should be a wake-up call for our community.”
According to local TV station WIAT, Lewis and her daughter were staying at a friend’s home in Birmingham on the night of Oct. 11. Lewis and her friend went out to a night club, leaving Kelci and the friend’s five children alone in the house. The 8-year-old boy charged with beating Kelci was the oldest child there.
The other children, ages 2, 4, 6 and 7, were the only other people in the home. According to the Associated Press, it was the 6-year-old who told police what happened.
Lewis and the other mother returned around 2 a.m., AL.com reported, but they didn’t notice that Kelci — who was placed back in her crib after being beaten — was hurt until the following morning at 10:45. She was rushed to a children’s hospital, where she was pronounced dead less than half an hour later.
The murder charge for the 8-year-old, who is in the care of Alabama’s child welfare agency, is unusual but not unheard of. In October, an 11-year-old boy was charged with first-degree murder after allegedly shooting an 8-year-old neighbor who would not show him her puppies.
There is no minimum age for prosecution in Alabama, said Tobie Smith, co-director of the Southern Juvenile Detention Center. The boy’s case will move through the state’s family court.
There “are going to be very serious questions about whether an 8-year-old has the rational capacity for the proceedings against him,” Smith told the AP. “… They’re gonna take a real look at whether maybe this is more a matter of parental culpability than child culpability.”
At a news conference Tuesday, Lt. Sean Edwards, a spokesman for the Birmingham Police Department, said that the 8-year-old probably will require “extreme intervention.”
“I believe the 8-year-old is going to require some intense counseling for the next several years,” he said.
He also said that the manslaughter charges for Lewis are aimed at “sending a message that this type of behavior, this type of irresponsibility on behalf of a parent, is totally unacceptable.”
“… Her actions that night, choosing the club over taking care of her 1-year-old, are going to stick with her the rest of her life.”
According to AL.com, the five other children who were in the home were removed and are no longer in the care of their parents.
A memorial for Kelci was held late last month at a Birmingham park. Friends and family members tearfully recalled the vivacious 1-year-old, who had big, knowing eyes and a cheerful disposition.
“She was loved by so many,” her grandmother Waynetta Callens told AL.com. “… Prayers and the grace of God are helping me to keep my sanity right now.”
Lewis attended the gathering but was reportedly too distraught to speak. She watched in silence as the small group lit candles and released balloons in her daughter’s memory, their white glow growing fainter and fainter as they floated away into the night.