The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction and life prison sentence of a Dougherty County man for killing his girlfriend's 13-month-old baby boy by shaking him and slamming his head against a hard surface.
In Tuesday's unanimous opinion, the high court has rejected each Tony Orlando Whitaker's claims of error, including that a 10-year delay from the time he requested a new trial until there was a hearing on his motion violated his constitutional rights to due process.
Despite the delay, the high court finds it did not damage or prejudice the man's case. "Therefore, the defendant's due process rights were not violated by the 10-year delay between trial and appeal," today's opinion says.
According to the facts presented at trial, on May 17, 1999 Shonda Sweet left her twin 13-month-old twins, Darrius and Tarrius, with her live-in boyfriend, Tony Orlando Whitaker, while she went to a job interview and later to Tallahassee, FL for the afternoon with a friend.
On her way home that evening, a police officer called Sweet and asked her to come to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, where she learned that Darrius was dead.
The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy testified there was swelling and a "patterned" injury on the back of the baby's head of three separate vertical lines that suggested he had been slammed into an uneven surface. The bruises on his forehead indicated "grip marks where someone grabbed the child's head and squeezed vigorously, or knuckle marks where somebody's rapped a knuckle on the head, or even knuckle marks in terms of punching." The baby had skull fractures, damage to his brain, including hemorrhages and swelling of the brain, and fresh bruises along his buttocks, back and head, caused by blunt force trauma from "shaking and impact." The pathologist stated the baby would have died within 30 minutes and the injuries were inconsistent with a simple fall off the bed.
In January 2000, a jury found Whitaker guilty of felony murder and cruelty to children and he was sentenced to life in prison.