Friday, December 2, 2011
BELLEVILLE • The doctor who performed an autopsy on Ryon Smith testified in court today that the 6-year-old found dead in a Cahokia home on Christmas Day 2005 had 57 distinct injuries and died of blunt trauma to the stomach.
The child's body had been in and then out of rigor mortis and was already decomposing when authorities arrived, according to Dr. Raj Nanduri, a forensic pathologist for the St. Clair County coroner's office.
Ryon's mother, Starr Lohman, admitted in court earlier today that she stood idly by while her boyfriend struck Ryon 15 to 30 times.
Lohman, 29, testified without emotion for about 90 minutes as a key witness against Lee Crutchfield, 39, in his trial in St. Clair County Circuit Court on a first-degree murder charge.
"Why did not you protect your son?" public defender Thomas Keefe III asked her in cross-examination.
"I should have," she replied.
Lohman testified for Assistant State's Attorney Steve Sallerson under an agreement that her own first-degree murder charge would be reduced to aggravated battery of a child, with a recommended sentence of 15 to 30 years. She would have to serve 85 percent, and get credit for six years she has spent in jail awaiting trial.
She told the jury that Crutchfield would put Ryon into a closet at their home because they didn't get along and he complained he could not get any peace. She insisted that she never put her son in the closet.
Sometime late on Dec. 23 or early on Dec. 24, 2005, she told the court, she saw Crutchfield hit Ryon repeatedly on the head and chest with his hand for urinating in the closet. She said she then went to a service station for awhile.
She said her son was unresponsive for 36 hours, before they finally called a hospital, and then 911, on Christmas Day.
Nanduri testified that she could not determine a time of death. She noted that at 34 pounds, Ryon was underweight for his age, and suffered injuries to his head, chest and stomach.
Lohman testified that Ryon sometimes faked seizures and she thought he was doing it again when she saw him in distress.
"I didn't call and get him help when he needed it.," she admitted.
She said she had spanked him in the past but never hit him otherwise, and had not done so in this incident.
At one point, she described Ryon as "a good kid."
In Keefe's questioning, the lawyer sought to highlight inconsistencies between Lohman's testimony and things she initially told police — including conjecture at the time that Ryon might have been hurt in a fall, with no mention of a beating.
Asked why she had not told the truth to police, she said, "I was scared."
In a police interrogation video played in court Tuesday, Crutchfield described Ryon as a difficult child who often hurled racial insults at him. Crutchfield is black; the boy's mother is white.
Crutchfield acknowledged in the recording that he punched Ryon twice in the head because the boy was biting his finger about two days before Christmas.
Lohman testified Wednesday that she only once heard her son direct a racial epithet at Crutchfield, and it was some time before the beating.