Jury finds stepmom not guilty of murder; guilty of manslaughter, abuse
4-year-old girl dies after beaten with board
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville mom accused of killing her stepdaughter was acquitted of first-degree murder Friday, but was found guilty of aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse.
Police said Shavonn Norfleet and her husband, John Norfleet, beat to death his 4-year-old daughter, Jada, with a piece of wood last year.
John Norfleet was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse in the girl's death. It took the jury only 20 minutes to convict him.
Shavonn Norfleet, who was facing the same charges, took the stand in her own defense Friday and said she did not feel responsible for Jada's death.
"I love Jada as if that were my own daughter, as if I had her," she said.
The jurors reached a verdict after about two hours, convicting Shavonn Norfleet on the lesser charges but finding her not guilty of murder.
She was calm as the decision was read in court.
Shavonn Norfleet will be back in court April 4, when the judge will set a date for her sentencing. Her husband will be sentenced the same week.
During her testimony Friday, Shavon Norfleet admitted that she had disciplined her children with the wooden rod that police said was used in Jada's fatal beating, but she denied abusing Jada.
The state was trying to prove Shavonn Norfleet had conscious intent in the first-degree murder charge, even though her husband was the one who beat the child with the piece of wood, killing her.
The defense’s questioning focused on what happened the day Jada died.
Shavonn Norfleet testified that her husband,John Norfleet, went upstairs to discipline Jada because she wouldn’t eat.
“I had no reason to suspect that anything crucial was happening as it was happening,” she said. “I had no reason to suspect that.”
Norfleet said she turned up the television, so her youngest child wouldn’t hear Jada crying, and she didn’t realize something was wrong until her husband brought Jada into the bathroom and started performing CPR.
That’s when she called a family friend, instead of 911, because her husband asked her to, she said.
Her attorney asked why, when she finally did call 911, she didn’t tell them what happened to Jada.
“I don't know. I just wanted them to hurry up and get there. I don't know why I didn't tell them,” Norfleet said.
In the first day of her trial, the prosecution called several witnesses Thursday, including first-responders who said Shavonn seemed unusually calm when they arrived at the home.
“I was already emotionally through a lot,” Norfleet testified in response Friday. “I don't know. I just didn't get hysterical. I'm not sure why.”
The defense called no other witnesses and rested after Norfleet's testimony.
State: Stepmom condoned girl's deadly abuse
The first paramedic who arrived at the Norfleets' house the day Jada died testified Thursday about seeing the 4-year-old's body covered in bruises.
The state asked the first police officer on the scene about his conversation with Norfleet.
He testified that she told them that Jada was being punished by her father for not eating.
During her interview, which was recorded and played for the jury, she said that she and her husband used the rod, and that she knows it’s hard for people to understand, but “that’s the Bible.”
The defense countered during cross-examination, saying Shavonn Norfleet also told the officer that she was downstairs and didn't see anything.
Jada's older sister, who was in the home when the fatal beating took place, also testified.
"When did you realize that your sister was in trouble?" the prosecutor asked.
"When I heard her cry and my dad bring up the rod," she said.
The prosecutor then produced "Exhibit 47" and asked if the girl recognized it.
"It was a stick that Jada and I would get whipped with," she said.
The state questioned another witness through Facetime, one of the Shavonn Norfleet's friends, who said she called him the day Jada died, saying they had an emergency and they needed him to pray.
He said at that point, Shavonn Norfleet hadn’t called 911.
The state played a recording of the call she eventually made to 911 and one of the interview she gave to police hours after her stepdaughter’s death.
In that video, she said that she did not see her husband disciplining Jada that night, but the state wants to prove that she assisted with and condoned the beating, which led to the girl's death.
A crime scene technician also showed the jury pictures he took of the boards used to beat Jada and a picture of a tooth in the bathroom.
The state also called several doctors, one of whom said if the child had received care sooner, he believes that she would still be alive.
The prosecution rested Thursday afternoon, and a defense motion for direct acquittal was denied.
In a letter given to the judge, John Norfleet said his wife had nothing to do with the child's death. and asked that charges against her be dropped.
"I am writing this letter to request that my wife, Shavonn Norfleet, be exonerated from this case and released immediately," John Norfleet wrote. "She has never committed child abuse, nor any other crime against our daughters. Furthermore, Shavonn was not present, nor did she partake in or condone…"
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