By Daniel Silliman
The 27-year-old man prosecutors once called "the least likely suspect" has been convicted of child abuse and felony murder.
After seven days of trial, and full day of deliberation, a Clayton County jury found Philanders Lamont Bowie guilty of murdering his girlfriend's infant daughter, Makayla Denise Valley.
After the verdict was read on Friday, Superior Court Judge Albert Collier sentenced the man to life in prison.
"Justice was done," said John Turner, assistant district attorney. "The baby died when she was in his custody. If you accepted the doctor's timeline, he had to do it. If you could narrow in on that, the case was simple. We just had to clear and strip everything else away."
It took more than three years to bring the case to trial. In that time, the case seemed to be anything but simple.
The district attorney's office indicted Bowie three different times, getting one indictment thrown out by a judge and dismissing another, apparently in confusion over the results of an autopsy.
Court records show the attorney handling the case understood the autopsy as clearing Bowie, putting the time of the fatal injury at a vague 24 to 36 hours. In fact, the medical examiner testified during the trial, the autopsy showed the child had been brutally beaten within the past 24 hours, and couldn't have lived for more than a few hours after punches to her stomach set her inside's bleeding. Bowie had watched the year-and-a-half-old girl for five hours, when she died, and the autopsy's timeline places the injury in that time.
Bowie was released, the case dismissed, and the man went home to Louisiana and nursing school, until the case emerged as an issue in the race for Clayton County District Attorney.
Makayla Valley's mother, Candace Jakes, endorsed one of the candidates running against District Attorney Jewel Scott, and the dead baby was raised as a reason to vote against the incumbent.
The district attorney blamed the medical examiners at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. GBI officials said there was a serious misunderstanding on the part of the attorneys, and the case was re-indicted in time for the Democratic primary.
The case was brought to trial in the final weeks of Jewel Scott's administration, with Turner describing the 27-year-old defendant as a rage-prone mooch who killed the little girl because she cried.
"He picked her up," Turner said during opening arguments, "and he threw her into a bouncy chair. He threw her into that chair so hard -- repeatedly, and slammed her into that chair. That's what he said he did! That caused her death."
The evidence showed the girl, who would have turned 5 the week Bowie was convicted of killing her, was beaten so badly her brain bled, her liver ruptured, her stomach filled with blood, and her tiny corpse was covered in bruises.
Bowie confessed to getting frustrated and hurting the child, but hedged on the extent of what he did.
His defense attorney, Steve Frey, argued the man was a "simpleton" who lied to protect his girlfriend. Frey suggested Jakes was guilty, pointing to her apparent lies, but said she manipulated Bowie into confessing.
Police had initially considered Jakes a suspect, a suspicion that increased when she responded to detective's questions by rolling her eyes, and appeared "cold and uncaring" the day her daughter died.
When she saw post-mortem photos of the girl, though, she broke down moaning, screaming and whaling on a metal table. Testifying in front of the jury, she said she initially thought her child died of natural causes, and didn't understand why the police were asking her questions. When she saw the photos, she said, she understood the baby had been murdered.
"He killed my baby," she told the police, in an interview recorded and shown to the jury. "He ... he ... he ... he killed her. He killed a baby, didn't he? There were bruises all over."
Jakes was the one who first elicited the confession from Bowie. The detectives, in an unusual move, let her go into the interrogation room and talk to Bowie as they stood outside the door.
Jakes, telling her boyfriend he had to "stop saying" he didn't do it, lead him into the statement he would repeat for police, in a video shown to jurors.
"I tossed her into the seat," Bowie said.
"Forcibly?" Jakes asked.
"Forcibly," he said.
"You need to tell me exactly what happened."
"I just got frustrated," he said.
"Tell me," Jakes said, "what happened when you got frustrated."
"I was just tossing her around, Candace. In her chair," he said.
"She had blood in her brain," Jakes said. "She was hit with something. You hit her with something."
"No, no, Candace, no, no, no. I didn't do that. I had nothing to do with that," Bowie said.
But the jury found him guilty. They rejected the charge of malice murder, alleging Bowie meant to kill Valley or had a "malignant and abandoned heart," but found him guilty of abuse and felony murder.
After the verdict, Bowie apologized to the family, Turner said, and was sentenced to prison.
The 27-year-old will be eligible for parole in 30 years.