LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - After nearly 5 hours of deliberation, an Angelina County jury has sentenced the parents of a 2 month-old son that died last year.
Dequisha Jackson was sentenced to 15 years in state jail and fined $10,000 after she was found guilty of manslaughter. The father, Isaiah Tollivar was sentenced to 2 years for endangering a child by omission.
It took just over an hour for the jury to find the pair guilty.
Both were arrested in October 2013 after Imauri Jackson died at their home in the 1500 block of Williams Street. The baby was determined to be extremely malnourished and police say the parents did not feel the need to seek medical treatment for him.
Sharika Levine, who lived with Tolliver, Jackson, and Imauri, said her cousin and nephew came into the house and used the sippy cups on the counter photographed with the baby bottle as evidence. She said Imauri Jackson didn't use the sippy cups.
Levine said five or six adults lived in the house on Williams Street in Lufkin. She said the baby didn't go without food, and they had plenty of diapers and a trash bag full of diapers. She said she fed the baby herself sometimes, and she said she saw the parents feeding the baby.
She said she heard the baby cry sometimes, but he wasn't a whiney baby. She said he was a good baby.
She said Jackson doesn't have custody of her other child because CPS gave custody to the child's father. Levine said that Jackson started seeing Tolliver when she was still living with the father of her other child in Houston.
“I guess he thought it was his baby because he moved up here to Lufkin and got a job,” Levine said, in reference to Tolliver.
Tolliver's pastor was also called to testify for the defense, and then Tolliver took the stand in his own defense.
Whiteker, Tolliver's defense attorney entered letters Jackson wrote to Tolliver in jail into evidence.
Whiteker asked Tolliver if the letters were written by Jackson, “the woman who professes to love you,” and Tolliver said yes. Whiteker asked if this was “the same lady that's pregnant now.”
Whiteker then read the following excerpt from the letter written by Jackson to Tolliver: “I can't fly with one wing, and you are my other wing, and it's like my whole life is down the drain, and I promise I mean this with my whole heart that I am so sorry that I asked you to move out there and messed up your life and maybe you shouldn't be with me even though I did do what they are trying to say I do.”
Whiteker rested his case and Tolliver stepped down.
Alton Green, a friend of Linda Bankhead, the woman the defendants and Imauri lived with, said they always had the baby with them. He said they always had the baby with them, wrapped up, and took the baby to the store in the stroller. He said he never saw anything out of the ordinary.
Danielle Muton, Dequisha Jackson's mother, was Tatum's next defense witness. She said her daughter lived with her through her whole pregnancy. She said the baby was “well taken care of.”
Muton said Jackson told her she had a doctor's appointment she was going to. She said after her daughter moved to Lufkin she talked to her some.
Whiteker asked Muton if Child Protective Services investigated Jackson and her other child's father. She said yes. She said she was aware that CPS did not give Jackson custody.
Carswell entered photographs of Imauri when he was first born into evidence. Muton identified that the pictures were an accurate description of how he looked when he was born.
Muton said the only appointment she knew about Jackson making was the appointment she made two weeks after his birth but said she didn't hear any follow up information about how the appointment went.
Whiteker questioned Muton about how long Tolliver lived with her in Liberty, Texas while he was attending high school in Houston and then Muton said she was telling the truth, Tolliver lived with her for about three months.
Tatum then rested his case. All sides rested and closed. Jackson elected not to testify on her own behalf.
Judge Paul White read the charges against Jackson and Tolliver to the jury. Both are charged with manslaughter and endangering child by omission -failing to provide adequate nutrition, fluids, or medical care.
The prosecution began closing arguments by saying Imauri was a healthy baby, and 60 days later he was emaciated and dehydrated.
“They are responsible for his care. They are his parents,” Carswell said.
She went on to read from the discharge instructions Jackson received from the hospital. Carswell said she didn't follow those instructions.
“Because this wasn't her first baby, we have to assume that she had these type of instructions before,” Carswell said.
Carswell said you can certainly see that these parents had places they could reach out to and get help if they needed it. She also said it was telling that there were so few wet or dirty diapers.
“Having formula in your house doesn't mean the baby got the formula,” Carswell said.
“The question that you will have roaming around in your heads today is, “Did they kill their baby?” Carswell told the jury.
“They caused his death folks. That's manslaughter, every day of the week,” Carswell said.
“I am going to ask you find them both guilty of manslaughter,” Carswell said.
Whiteker told the jury that in a perfect world, “women nurture life, and men serve life.”
“Who assumed and wanted to do the right thing? Isaiah Tolliver,” Whiteker said.
Whiteker said he knew that the baby could have another father, but he assumed responsibility and moved here to take care of the child. He said that there was no father listed on the birth certificate, and he signed a form saying that he was the daddy so that the baby could have a decent burial.
Whiteker said Jackson mislead Tolliver.
“She got out of jail on bond and got pregnant,” Whiteker said.
Meanwhile, Tolliver has been in jail over a year because he didn't have money to pay the bill, Whiteker said.
Whiteker said he relied on Bankhead and Jackson to tell him what to do. Both of them had previous children, he said.
“I don't think you can totally excuse him, but I don't think you can accuse him of manslaughter,” Whiteker said.
“Tolliver is not guilty of anything. He assumed responsibility and did it poorly,” Whiteker said.
Tatum started his closing summation by reminding the jury of reasonable doubt. He said the pictures are terrible, but what you have here is babies having babies.
Tatum said the defendants didn't know where to ask questions or anywhere to go from help and asked the jury to look at it from their perspective.
Tatum said the charges detail for the jury to look at what happened through their perspective. Then he went on to say that people remember things differently. He said the EMS person on scene said he didn't see Jackson at the hospital but detective Hennigan testified that she rode in the ambulance to the hospital and then detective Malone interviewed Jackson at the hospital.
Tatum said what his client didn't know was that the rice cereal was taking away nutrients from the baby, but they acted on advice from someone they thought knew what was going on.
“People with no education, little intelligence, and bad advice don't do the things they're supposed to do,” Tatum said.
Tatum said that CPS came probably a week before the baby died, brought a pack and play, but they didn't see a problem otherwise they would have taken the baby then.
Tatum said in the video, Jackson is wiping the tears from her eyes. He said that's remorse. He said Jackson was distraught. He said the police were questioning her less than an hour after her baby had died.
Tatum said they had enough formula in that house for about a month. He said the big mistake was putting the cereal with the formula.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Carswell said. “Who in this room could not remember what his frail little body looked like? I'll tell you who, Dequisha Jackson and Isaiah Tolliver.”
“You can see a doctor in this county when you need to see a doctor,” Carswell said. “I think what happened that morning, ladies and gentleman, is they heard the baby crying, and they just didn't want to deal with it, but this time they put the pacifier in the mouth of a baby that was cold stiff. Didn't work; we had a dead body on our hands.”
Carswell told the jurors there is not a doctor “out there that would have let this child go without treatment.”
Carswell said Tolliver and Jackson were indifferent, and she also pointed out that in Tolliver's hour-long videotaped interview he only said Imauri's name maybe two times but instead referred to him as “the baby” and “it.”
Carswell said he only time Jackson said the name Imauri was when someone asked her what his name was.
She said the bottom line was they didn't feed Imauri. It took 60 calendar days for him to waste away to what the jurors saw in the photo taken at the hospital the day Imauri died.
Carswell said everyone from the doctors to the pathologist to the detective agreed that the baby died a while before the parents said it did.
The jury got the case at 2:25 p.m.
Tolliver and Jackson were both originally charged with first-degree murder. However, their charges were changed to manslaughter and endangering a child by omission about six weeks ago because the Angelina County District Attorney's Office felt like there wasn't enough evidence to support the first-degree murder charge.
After just an hour and five minutes the jurors notified the judge they had reached a verdict. They unanimously found Dequisha Jackson guilty of manslaughter and Isaiah Tolliver guilty of the lesser charge endangering a child by omission and not guilty of manslaughter.
The case moved immediately to the sentencing phase. The state told the court they did not have any new evidence to present that wasn't presented in the guilty-innocence phase.
Howard Taylor, a pastor that talked with Tolliver testified in the sentencing phase of the trial. He said Tolliver is a good person and has a good heart and just made a mistake. He said Tolliver would be a good person for probation. Taylor also said he would be there to help Tolliver any way he could if he was given probation.
Taylor told the court he also knows Jackson. He said she is a good person but said she would need some counseling which he said she could get on probation.
Carswell asked Taylor if he believed probation was the right punishment when a life was lost. Taylor said, "I believe she deserves another chance, locking her up is not going to help her."
Tolliver took the stand again to testify on his own behalf in the sentencing phase. Whiteker asked him if he could follow the rules of being on probation and he said that he could and he would as well as making note that he doesn't want to come back to the legal system again.
Danielle Muton, Jackson's mother, testified in the sentencing phase as well. She said, "we have been through a lot." Muton said Jackson named Imauri after her brother that has just died before Imauri was born.
"My daughter is sweet. She's never been in trouble. She never do nobody no wrong," Muton said. She said that her daughter would follow the rules of probation.
Both have been given credit for time served. Tolliver has served more than half of his sentence.