Prosecution and defense squared off Tuesday over whether Anthony Bush meant to kill his 11-year-old stepson as he beat him with metal barbells, wooden swords, belts and boards for nine hours in his Knoxville residence in February.
No one disputes that Donovan McKee died at the hands of Mr. Bush, 29. He told police that he did it, called himself a "monster" and said he was sorry.
But the issue at his homicide trial, which started Tuesday, is whether he intended to kill Donovan, a home-schooled child who endured a hellish life of abuse in the tiny Rochelle Towers apartment that he shared with his mother, Cynthia McKee, his 5-year-old brother and Mr. Bush. The prosecutor, Lisa Pellegrini, said Mr. Bush beat the boy bloody throughout the day Feb. 11 while Ms. McKee was at work.
After opening up a wound in Donovan's head, he used household needle-and-thread to stitch the gash, then later suggested to Ms. McKee that she tell police that he "fell out a window."
Ms. Pellegrini smacked one hand into another over and over to drive home her point to the jury that no one hits a child so many times without meaning to kill.
Lisa Middleman, Mr. Bush's lawyer, didn't deny that her client beat and killed Donovan. But she tried to explain the crime by describing his own life of abuse as a legally blind albino raised in cities around the country by a violent, alcoholic mother who beat him every day and told him she wished he'd never been born.
She said Mr. Bush was forced to be the caretaker for other children his mother bore by a variety of men.
Ms. Middleman said he was taunted at home and at school and suffers from mental health problems as a result.
"He was a big, fat, ugly albino, and his mother hated him," Ms. Middleman told the jury.
Ms. Pellegrini said Mr. Bush called his girlfriend at 8:50 p.m. to ask her where he could find the needle and thread and told her to come home from work.
When she arrived at about 10 p.m., the boy was lying unresponsive on the couch, but the couple waited an hour and 40 minutes before calling 911.
Ms. McKee pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter because of that delay, but will not be a witness.
The first police officers on the scene testified that they arrived to find Mr. Bush holding Donovan's naked, lifeless body in his arms and ordered him to place the child on the floor.
"This is all my fault, I'm sorry. What do I do now?" he said.
As Officer Angie Lane tried to perform CPR on Donovan, she discovered the wound in the back of his head and saw that someone had used thread to crudely suture it closed.
She and another officer found Donovan's little brother in the boys' bedroom, where she also saw blood on the bed along with a bloody belt and blood spatters on the ceiling and walls.
As paramedics worked on Donovan in the next room, she said she tried to distract the boy by reading a book to him about ducks. He took the book from her, said he would read to her and began reading fluently.
When she asked how he had learned to read so well, he told her, "My brother Donovan taught me."neigh_city
Torsten Ove: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1510.