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Jury weighs evidence in infant-death trial

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

The jury hearing evidence in the case of a Jonesboro man charged in the 2008 death of his 4-month-old son will return to court today, after legal questions arose around the verdict it reached Thursday.

"There appears to be an issue with the verdict," Superior Court Judge Geronda Carter said before instructing jurors to return today, at 9 a.m.

During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors said Jeremy Antonio Stokes, 27, jerked, bit and squeezed Jeremiah Stokes in March 2008, and caused the boy's death by asphyxiation.

Stokes is charged with malice murder, felony murder, voluntary manslaughter, cruelty to children and aggravated battery.

Clayton County Chief Assistant District Attorney Erman Tanjuatco told the jury that Stokes broke two of his son's ribs and an arm, because the boy would not stop crying on the day of the incident.

"It takes a lot of force to break a baby's rib cage," Tanjuatco said. "He bit through the clothing, and even after the clothing, he bit into the skin. What did Jeremiah do that morning besides wake up? He's 4 months old. He can't even crawl yet. All he wanted was his bottle. All he did was just cry."

Stokes was left to watch the baby after the child's mother, Tamara Riley, fed and bathed him and left to go to work, according to prosecutors.

Stokes told police that the morning of the incident, he had returned from a nightclub at 4 a.m., and was intoxicated from drinking "Hennessy and Coke," prosecutors said.

Stokes told police that he woke up on the couch to find that the baby had fallen off the couch, and was gasping for air.

A state prosecutor assisting in the case, Lalaine Briones, continued with closing arguments by placing several autopsy photos of the baby on a screen for those in the courtroom to see. She said evidence showed the infant's death was not an accident, but a "systematic escalation of violence."

"You cannot say that when he squeezed that child, covered his airway and mouth, and when he bit that child, he was not aware of the consequences," Briones said. "The last image that precious child saw in his 4-month life was the face of his own father killing him. The last emotion he felt was fear."

Defense Attorney Melvyn Williams told the jury that Stokes did not intend to kill his son.

"This case involves an unfortunate accident to a child at the hands of his father," Williams said. "When Jeremiah cries, it's at the top of his lungs, it's not just a whimper. We're talking about a father with basically no experience, so what he would do is not necessarily what someone else would do.

"He got his son's name tattooed on his neck ... does that sound like a father who doesn't care about his son?" Williams asked the jury.

Stokes could face a maximum sentence of life in prison plus 60 years, if convicted on all counts, according to Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson.